Retrospect Opera

Great British Operas On Record

Fête Galante by Ethel Smyth, and The Happy Prince by Liza Lehmann
This album brings together, for the first time, important works by two of Britain’s leading female composers of the early twentieth century: Ethel Smyth and Liza Lehmann. Smyth described her beautiful opera of 1923, Fête Galante, as ‘A Dance Dream’. It is a romantic evocation of the traditional commedia dell’arte – the world of Harlequin, Pierrot and Columbine. In an idyllic Watteau-esque garden, we find love, jealousy, deception and danger as life mysteriously mimics art. Will Pierrot identify the Queen’s lover, or must he pay the ultimate price for silence? Lehmann’s dramatic ‘recitation’, or melodrama, of 1908, The Happy Prince, is a musical retelling of Oscar Wilde’s celebrated story of self-sacrifice and redemption, composed for reciter and pianist.

‘I found Ethel Smyth's music ... a clever marriage of early baroque and late romantic, always colourful, often beautiful and, in its use of the orchestra, conducted by Odaline de la Martinez, very effective. The chorus writing is excellent and as for the cast, the shining vocal performances are by Felix Kemp as Pierrot, Carolyn Dobbin as The Queen and tenor Mark Milhofer as the Lover. The story of 'The Happy Prince' is read clearly and expressively by Felicity Lott with Liza Lehmann's piano score played by Valerie Langfield.’ (Alan Cooper, British Music Society)

Under Odaline de la Martinez the singing of the cast is as light, lively and expressive as Lontano’s playing—perfectly weighted to the material, though Carolyn Dobbin’s Queen (sensuous as well as graceful) and Felix Kemp’s plangent, doomed Pierrot make a particular impression. The choral singing is equally focussed. [...] it’s hard to imagine [The Happy Prince] delivered with more love or finesse than it receives here from Felicity Lott and Valerie Langfield. A trio of historic Smyth recordings from Adrian Boult makes a delightful encore to a very rewarding disc.’ (Richard Bratby, Gramophone)

Lontano’s conductor, Odaline de la Martinez, is surely right to find [Fête Galante] Smyth’s best opera [...] the formal choruses [...] are beautifully managed here by Martinez, with a pared-down group of eight singers. Lontano’s instrumentalists are on good form too. [...] Of the soloists, I was most taken with the baritone Felix Kemp, whose Pierrot is as precisely enunciated as it is warmly sung: his sardonic little songs are spellbinding. The central scene for the Queen and her lover is also in good hands, the smoky-toned Carolyn Dobbin sensuously entwining with Mark Milhofer’s individual, lyric tenor. [...] Alessandro Fisher makes much of his opportunities as an astringent, bright-voiced Harlequin. [...] the edition has been fashioned with sense and sensitivity. Liza Lehmann’s melodrama of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince makes a gently pleasant filler, not least for the surprise appearance of Felicity Lott as the reciter, backed by Valerie Langfield’s responsive pianism; while Adrian Boult’s 1939 selection of orchestral interludes from Smyth operas completes the disc in style. Given Retrospect’s peerless presentation, with essays, photographs and a complete libretto, Fête Galante is self-recommending for British opera enthusiasts. I urge anyone still unsure about Ethel Smyth’s theatrical talents to sample this quirky, magical work.’ (Christopher Webber, Opera Magazine)

  • Tracks 1-17: Ethel Smyth: Fête Galante (45.08)
    • Charmian Bedford (Columbine)
    • Carolyn Dobbin (The Queen)
    • Felix Kemp (Pierrot)
    • Simon Wallfisch (The King)
    • Mark Milhofer (The Lover)
    • Alessandro Fisher (Harlequin)
    • Lontano Ensemble, conducted by Odaline de la Martinez
  • Track 18: Liza Lehmann: The Happy Prince (21.44)
    • Dame Felicity Lott (reciter)
    • Valerie Langfield (piano)
  • Track 19: Ethel Smyth: Fête Galante Minuet (4.08)
  • Track 20: Ethel Smyth: The Boatswain’s Mate The Keeper (0.36)
  • Track 21: Ethel Smyth: Entente Cordiale Two Interlinked French Folk Melodies(4.33)
    • These three with Sir Adrian Boult conducting the Light Symphony Orchestra (recorded 1939)
  • The booklet includes the full libretto, and essays by Christopher Wiley (with Valerie Langfield), John Rudlin, Odaline de la Martinez and Andrew H. King.
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Listen to clips from Fête Galante here:

Chorus: Hushed is the world

The Queen and the Lover: Lovers' Duet

Pierrot: Oh! it is sweet to be alone

Chorus: Heigho! heigho!

Orchestra: Sarabande

Chorus: Madrigal - Soul's Joy