Sunday 5 April 2015

The Wreckers in New York state

Ethel Smyth's opera The Wreckers will receive its American stage premiere on 24 July 2015 as part of the 26th Bard Music Festival. Founded by co-artistic director Leon Botstein, the festival in Annandale-on-Hudson in upstate New York has a reputation for exploring lesser known works. For The Wreckers, Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra will be joined by director Thaddeus Strassberger whose previous work at the festival has included Chabrier's Le roi malgré lui,and 2013’s first full American staging of Sergei Taneyev’s Oresteia

Smyth's librettist was by the American poet Henry Brewster, who in fact wrote in French so that the work should rightly be called Les Naufrageurs. Brewster wrote all of his poetical works, including the libretto for Smyth, in French though his other writings were in English. The two had hoped that the piece might be premiered by Messager and the singers from the Paris Opera when they appeared at a grand season at Covent Garden, but this did not happen and Smyth ended up commissioning hack translations into English and German, which was used for its premiere in Germany.

Even in the UK performances of the opera are rare (and I am not sure it has ever been done in the original French and it is now commonly done in English translation). The work was performed in 2006 for the first time in Cornwall by Duchy Opera (when they used revised English translation), and was given at the Proms in 1994. I was lucky enough to see it staged, in a terrific production at Warwick University in the 1980's (directed by Graham Vick with Anne Mason as Thirza) which was terrific and no performance has subsequently re-captured for me the power of that one.

Whilst this will be the work's US stage premiere of The Wreckers, Smyth's one-act opera Der Wald has the distinction of being the only work by a female composer to be performed at New York's Metropolitan Opera.

The Bard Music Festival runs from 25 June to 16 August 2015 and has as its main theme Chavez and His World with an exploration of the life and times of Carlos Chavez, the central figure in 20th century Mexican music. Further information about the festival from their website.

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