“THE WRECKERS” – Ethel Smyth

“THE WRECKERS” – by Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
July 24, July 26, and August 2, 2015, Opera Talk: July 26 at noon

American Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger

Ethel Smyth’s “The Wreckers” is based in historical fact: in small, desperately poor villages on Britain’s Cornish coast, bands of villagers formed secret cadres that at critical moments would extinguish the beacons established on the coast to guide ships, thus forcing them onto the rocks and then plundering the cargo and murdering the crews.

The story Smyth chose to set presents a tale that should be of intense interest to contemporary audiences. It concerns an isolated community in Cornwall that possesses a religiously based, fanatical self-regard that leads it to justify theft and murder as God-given rights and virtues. Led by the community’s own pastor who invokes Christianity, violence becomes the instrument of realizing God’s will. The opera depicts the consequences of mass hysteria and populist justice, framed by a powerful display of orchestral writing, memorable motivic recurrence, and a brilliant use of chorus.