Smyth The Wreckers
Anne-Marie Owens, Justin Lavender, Peter Sidhom, David Wilson-Johnson, Judith Howarth, Anthony Roden, Brian Bannatyne-Scott, Annemarie Sand; Huddersfield Choral Society; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Odaline de la Martinez
Retrospect Opera RO 004 (reissue, 1994) 127:59 mins
Written to a French libretto by her close American friend Harry Brewster, Ethel Smyth’s opera was first performed in German in Leipzig in 1906 but is heard here in an English version used when Beecham gave its UK stage premiere in 1909. He and Bruno Walter, no less, conducted it at Covent Garden the following year, and it enjoyed revivals there in 1931 and at Sadler’s Wells in 1939: one or two scenes appear to prefigure Peter Grimes. Despite a libretto in need of editing (Amanda Holden has since prepared a revised version), the piece comes over impressively in this live performance recorded at the Proms in 1994 and first issued that year on Conifer. In this invented tale of an inward-looking Cornish coastal community that survives by luring ships to their doom, Smyth shows a keen instinct for musical drama, while her score – written in the traditions of Brahms and Wagner, but with a definite personality of her own – exudes energy and momentum; a revival by one of our major companies really is long overdue. The cast here give a good account of their roles, with Justin Lavender and Anne-Marie Owens impassioned as adulterous lovers Mark and Thirza, Peter Sidhom striking as Thirza’s husband, the local preacher Pascoe, and Judith Howarth thrillingly malicious as Mark’s cast-off girlfriend, Avis. The Huddersfield Choral Society is no opera chorus, but they hurl themselves into the fray as the crazed villagers, while Odaline de la Martinez brings flair and commitment to realising the regularly memorable score. Good sound.