‘The Wreckers’ by Dame Ethel Smyth

March 25, 2021, 8:00 pm

Share this Post

A sketch of composer Dame Ethel Smyth by John Singer Sargent, projected over Cornish coastline

Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) won a fair amount of renown in her native Britain, and elsewhere, in a time when women composers were generally looked down upon. She composed symphonies and a number of shorter works. Her 1906 opera, The Wreckers, was premiered in Leipzig – where she had studied at one time – but is based upon legends (and some history) from the British region of Cornwall. There, it’s alleged, residents of the coastal villages would lure ships onto rocky shores with lanterns and torches, and when the ships foundered, would loot and then sell the valuable cargoes. Smyth visited Cornwall often and became fascinated by these legends. A friend and colleague, Henry Brewster, wrote the libretto based on the composer’s recounting of the tales.

Odaline de la Martínez (Photo: Malcolm Crowther)

The Wreckers was recently performed at the Bard Summerscape, in 2015, under Leon Botstein’s direction. The recording we’ll play is of a concert performance at the 1994 BBC Proms, conducted by Odaline de la Martinez. WFMT’s Oliver Camacho will host the opera and include an interview with Maestro Martinez, who’s an enthusiastic champion of Dame Ethel’s music. View the British Library’s 1909 English libretto here.