Lehmann • Smyth: Fête Galante, etc
Lontano Ensemble/Odaline de la Martinez, et al (Retrospect Opera)
Lehmann • Smyth
Smyth: Fête Galante; The Boatswain’s Mate – extracts†; Entente Cordiale – extracts†; Fête Galante – extracts†;
Liza Lehmann: The Happy Prince*
*Felicity Lott (reciter), *Valerie Langfield (piano); †The Light Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult; Charmian Bedford, Carolyn Dobbin, Felix Kemp, Simon Walfisch, Mark Milhofer, Alessandro Fisher; Lontano Ensemble/Odaline de la Martinez
Retrospect Opera RO007 76:34 mins
It is good that Dame Ethel Smyth’s operas are gradually making their way to disc, led by conductor Odaline de la Martinez, who has previously given us The Wreckers (1906; live from the 1994 Proms) and more recently The Boatswain’s Mate (1916). Rather curiously, given the stature of Smyth’s three-act Cornish drama, indeed ‘the work by which I stand or fall’, as the composer herself expressed it, de la Martinez on the contrary declares Fête Galante to be the composer’s ‘best opera’ in her liner note. The quality of this performance notwithstanding, it is hard to agree.
With a libretto drawn from a short story by Smyth’s literary friend Maurice Baring given poetic form by Edward Shanks, this one-act ‘dance-dream’ with a dark ending tells a slight amorous anecdote from the world of Columbine, Harlequin and Pierrot – though even on that level it registers as a dated piece of whimsy. The resulting text is written in libretto-ese and artistically Smyth is scarcely stretching herself. Carefully composed, mostly in the manner of some broadly attractive if over-extended pastiche, the score remains earthbound.
As well as the highly capable new performance, the recording also includes archival orchestral extracts from Fête Galante, The Boatswain’s Mate and Entente Cordiale, all conducted by Adrian Boult, plus a melodrama (speech over music) by another talented but neglected figure, Liza Lehmann, whose setting of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince is expertly delivered by Felicity Lott and pianist Valerie Langfield.