Monday 6 February 2023

Down in The Forest, something stirs: The Opera Makers reviving Ethel Smyth's rarely performed second opera, Der Wald

Ethel Smyth: Der Wald

Interest in the music of Ethel Smyth has developed significantly over the last decade, and companies are starting to understand that her output is greater than just her opera The Wreckers and the Mass. In particular, she wrote six operas and these are slowly being explored with recordings and performances. The Boatswains Mate has had a few outings in recent years whilst Retrospect Opera recorded Fete Galante in 2019 and this opera was recently performed at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Now it seems to be the turn of Der Wald, Smyth's second opera. In September 2022, conductor John Andrews talked about his plans to record Der Wald [see my interview], and now the work is to receive a performance in London, giving us chance to explore this important yet rarely heard work.

Ethel Smyth's Der Wald is being presented in concert at Holy Sepulchre Church, EC1A 2DQ on 10 March 2023 by a relatively new company, The Opera Makers, music director Panaretos Kyriatzidis, artistic director Becca Marriott. 

The work is a fairy tale, with a libretto in German that was a collaboration between Smyth and Harry Brewster (her friend and sometime lover who would write the libretto for The Wreckers). It was written in German partly because all of Smyth's musical contacts at the time were in Germany.

Written between 1899 and 1902 and premiered in 1902 at Königliches Opernhaus in Berlin (now known as the Staatsoper Unter den Linden), this is a one-act work that John Andrews described as 65 minutes of emotional turmoil. Unlike The Wreckers, which is in three acts and long, Der Wald is far more compact, but it has the same style of fabulous music. Critics at the time described Der Wald as Wagnerian, but this simply is not completely true. There are a lot of late 19th-century influences in the music and Wagner is just one of them.  

In 1903, Der Wald would become the first work by any woman to be staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and it would be 100 years before the company staged another opera by a woman! Smyth had mixed feelings about the American performances, commenting in her autobiography What Happened Next, "Though the press, except for certain rather unfriendly German-owned papers, was excellent, I felt in my bones that Der Wald was as out of place in America as one of the Muses would be at a football match" There were performances at the Royal Opera House in London and in Strasbourg, but then there was nothing. 

Further details and tickets for the Opera Makers production of Ethel Smyth's Der Wald from TicketTailor.

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