Saturday 8 February 2014

Ethel Smyth in Switzerland

Ethel Smyth by John Singer Sargent
No, not a recounting of a little known episode in English composer's life (though no doubt she did visit Switzerland), but a mini-festival of Smyth's work happening later this month in Switzerland. In connection with the research project music and gender at the University of Basel and the Lucerne Academy, organised by Cornelia Bartsch and Blanka Siska, several Ethel Smyth events will be taking place. There is a symposium entitled Life is a composite affair: Ethel Smyth - Musik, Kritik, Politik on 16 and 17 February in Lucerne with an exhibition and a chamber concert; at the Lucerne Theatre.  

Smyth’s opera The Boatswain's Mate is being mounted, first being performed on 15 February at Lucerne Theatre with further performances on 16, 20, 21, 22 and 26 February. The opera was Smyth's fourth opera, and her first to be premiered in the UK. Her own comic libretto is based on short story by W. W. Jacobs. The Lucerne performances will be sung in German, with musical direction by Andrew Dunscombe and directed by Hersilie Ewald, an assistant director at the Lucerne Theatre.

Though Smyth's previous two operas, The Wreckers and Der Wald were highly dramatic, her response to the First World War was partly to write lighter pieces for the stage. The work is unashamedly feminist but it is also a comedy, with a feisty, resourceful heroine. Though The Wreckers is perhaps a stronger work, it is one of Smyth's most performed operas because the forces required are relatively compact. Though it has not been around much recently, I was luckily enough to see it in the 1980's in a touring production in East Anglia.

Further information from the University of Basel website.

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