Fête Galante

Ethel Smyth | Fête Galante
Liza Lehmann | The Happy Prince

An operatic evocation of the commedia dell’arte coupled to a musicall retelling of Oscar Wilde‘s story.


SKU: RO007 Category:

“…in some respects Smyth’s best opera. Musically simpler than the others, it is eminently stage-worthy and earworthy, its score the genuine stuff of one-act drama, its atmosphere and conception unique.  It will greatly enhance our view of English music”

Professor Stephen Banfield

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.

Our seventh release brings together works by two of Britain’s leading female composers of the early twentieth century. The main work is Ethel Smyth’s beautiful short opera of 1923, Fête Galante, her romantic evocation of the traditional commedia dell’arte – the world of Harlequin, Pierrot, and Columbine. The companion work is Liza Lehmann’s dramatic ‘recitation’, or melodrama, of 1908, The Happy Prince – a delightful musical retelling of Oscar Wilde’s famous story. It’s the first time Smyth and Lehmann’s music has been brought together, and it’s a most enjoyable combination. The release is completed with the recordings of extracts from Smyth’s Fête GalanteThe Boatswain’s Mate, and Entente Cordiale, recorded in 1939 by Sir Adrian Boult.

We are delighted that Odaline de la Martinez, who did a truly outstanding job conducting our recording of Smyth’s Boatswain’s Mate, conducted Fête Galante for us. A renowned interpreter and champion of Smyth’s music, she previously released a critically acclaimed recording of Smyth’s opera The Wreckers, which she conducted in a special performance at the BBC Proms in 1994, as well as a CD of Smyth’s Serenade in D major and Concerto for Violin, Horn, and Orchestra. We have re-released her recording of The Wreckers.

Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) occupies an absolutely central place in the history of British women’s music. In terms of professionalism, ambition and achievement she was in a completely different league from the female composers who preceded her, and she has gone on proving an inspiration and influence to those who came after her. In recent decades, her significance and abilities have been demonstrated by a series of recordings and rapidly increasing academic interest. There is no doubt that, with the general boom in women’s music, and the particular interest generated in Smyth given the productions of her operas The WreckersThe Boatswain’s Mate, and Fête Galante internationally across the past decade, we will be hearing a lot more of Smyth in the future.

Although a good deal of Smyth’s music is now available on record, the genre with which she was most preoccupied and identified, opera, is very poorly represented. Of her six operas, prior to Retrospect Opera’s release of The Boatswain’s Mate in 2016, only The Wreckers had been recorded in its entirety, over twenty years ago. In light of the renewed interest in Smyth’s operatic output, it is high time for more of Smyth’s work in the genre to be available. The most obvious candidate is Fête Galante (1923), the opera that immediately succeeded The Wreckers and The Boatswain’s Mate, and it built upon the ‘new departure’ in her output heralded by the latter – a change of direction that was to have significant ramifications for the history of early twentieth-century British opera.

(c) 2016, David Chandler

Fête Galante

Smyth advanced immeasurably on all previous female composers of opera, but what is perhaps most striking about her work in the field is her desire to develop the genre in several different directions, rather than just one. She never repeated herself, and to those who only know her earlier operas, Fête Galante is guaranteed to be a remarkable revelation. Where The Wreckers is the most powerful and socially engaged of her operas, and The Boatswain’s Mate the most tuneful and funny, Fête Galante is the most magical and original. It is the only score in which she drew upon neo-classical idioms, including stylised Baroque dances and an unaccompanied madrigal setting of ‘Soul’s Joy’, a poem then thought to be by John Donne, but now attributed to William Herbert (1580-1630), the dedicatee of the Shakespeare First Folio.

First performed at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and London’s Covent Garden in 1923, Fête Galante explores the blurred lines between fantasy and reality, illusion and delusion. Set in ‘a moon-lit Watteau garden’ and subtitled ‘a dance-dream’, the one-act opera is based on a short story by Maurice Baring, a close friend of Smyth’s about whom she subsequently published a book-length biography (1938). The neo-classical idiom of her music is well characterised by the Queen in the story: ‘Lilting and soft, but with an undercurrent / Of Sorrow and bitterness.’

Of Smyth’s six operas, Fête Galante was the only one to have been written to commission, by the British National Opera, in December 1921. It was also the opera that enjoyed the furthest reach during Smyth’s lifetime, having been both arranged as an orchestral suite (1924) and expanded as a ballet (1932). In these forms, Smyth’s music was presented in several high-profile concert performances under the composer’s baton, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Queen’s Hall Prom in 1933, at the invitation of Sir Henry Wood.

‘The public loved F.G.’, Smyth wrote in her diary in July 1923. She was not wrong. Among the substantial number of congratulatory letters she received, acclaimed singer Astra Desmond wrote, ‘I must tell you how tremendously I enjoyed your exquisite Fête Galante. It is one of the most beautiful and moving things I have seen or heard.’ The work was also said to have prompted Sir Richard Terry, the musicologist and pioneering early music specialist, to remark that Smyth was ‘the only English composer of opera who could really get it over the footlights’.

In view of the strength of these contemporary endorsements, it is clearly only proper that the opera that brought such enjoyment to listeners in the 1920s and 1930s should once again become available to the public in the form of a modern recording.

(c) 2016, David Chandler

Liza Lehman and <em>The Happy Prince</em>

Elizabeth Nina Mary Frederica Lehmann(Liza for short) was born in London on 11 July 1862, into a respectable middle-class family of continental ancestry. The atmosphere of the Lehmann household enveloped Liza and her sisters in all things artistic and intellectual. Following her birth in England, her early years were spent abroad, where the Lehmanns moved in artistic circles and family friends included such luminary musical figures as Liszt. An affinity for music, and singing in particular, manifested itself early; on receiving encouragement from the great Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, amongst others, the foundations for a successful performance career were laid. That Lehmann sought inspiration for two of her musical ‘recitations’, as she called them, from the stories of Oscar Wilde (The Happy Prince, 1908, and The Selfish Giant, 1911) during a time when he was persona non grata is possibly a sign of her artistic individuality and enlightened world view.

Wilde’s story is a fable on themes familiar in his work, including class disparity, friendship, kindness, and it includes a nod to the British fascination with the decadent and the exotic. Features of Wilde’s story are echoed beautifully in Lehmann’s expressive musical landscape – the flight of the swallow, images of Egypt, the statue’s weeping sorrow, and Paradise, resulting in a melodious and engaging moral entertainment.

(c) 2019, Andrew H. King

Smyth | Fête Galante

Music by Ethel Smyth | Libretto by Smyth and Edward Shanks based on Maurice Baring

Columbine | Charmain Bedford
The Queen | Carolyn Dobbin
Pierrot | Felix Kemp
The King | Simon Wallfisch
The Lover | Mark Milhofer
Harlequin | Alessandro Fisher

Lontano Ensemble
Conductor | Odaline de la Martinez

1 | Overture: Sarabande
2 | Musette
3 | Sarabande
4 | Fanfare
5 | Puppet Quartet
6 | Now see! The blossom
7 | Sir, we are not alone
8 | Oh! It is sweet to be alone
9 | Madrigal: Soul’s joy
10 | Lovers’ duet: Ah what madness
11 | Trio: Lovers in bliss
12 | Elsewhere, Madam, our guests expect you
13 | So Columbine has drawn her knife
14 | I too bid you speak
15 | Joy unbounded, to die for the Queen
16 | Revelry – Heigho!
17 | Chorus: Hushed is the world

Lehmann: The Happy Prince

Music by Liza Lehmann after the story by Oscar Wilde

Reciter | Felicity Lott
Piano | Valerie Langfield

18 | The Happy Prince

Remastered 1939 Recordings

Light Symphony Orchestra
Conductor | Sir Adrian Boult

19 | Smyth | Fete Galante – Sarabande & Musette
20 | Smyth | Boatswain’s Mate – The Keeper
21 | Smyth | Entente Cordiale – Two Interlinked French Folk Melodies

Fête Galante Friends | Ambache Charitable Trust | The Ida Carroll Trust | RVW Trust | Mariann Steegmann Foundation | Woking Borough Council | 2 anonymous donors | Vint Cerf (Life Member) | The Rebecca Clarke Society | Michael Cooke | the late Colin Craig | Peter and Susan Graham | David Harman  | Alex Hood | Øyvind Erik Jensen (Life Member) | Stephen Locke | Maria Serafica (Life Member) | Nicholas Temperley (Patron) | Roger Turner (Life Member) | Judith Waddicor (Life Member) | Chris Wiley | Doctor Zulu

Fête Galante Masqueraders | 1 anonymous donor | Stephen Banfield | Gavin Bantock | David Bennett | Denis Brewer | Helen Brown | Tania Chen | Jerry Cowhig | Peter Dale | Claire Davison | Jamie Findlay | Stephen Gill | John Gray and Karen Walford | Helen Pankhurst | Julian Rushton | Nicole Russell | Jan Smaczny | Elaine Sperber | the late John Tyrrell | Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy | Elizabeth Wood | Martin Yates

Fête Galante Sponsors | 2 anonymous donors | Drew Adams | Michael Allis | Kaori Ashizu | Jory Bennett | Felicity Clark | Thomas Crochunis | Robin Darwall-Smith and Peter Gilliver | Jessica Derventzis | John Donne Society of America | Paul Douglass | Tim Dowling | Lee Eiseman | Pippa Jameson Evans | Federica Fortunato | Hikaru Fujii | Jacqueline Fujita | In memory of Richard Gravil | Siân Griffiths | Simon Hopkins | George Hyde | Helen and | Stanley Ireland | Noriko Ishizuka | Piet de Jong | Mary and the late John Joubert | Manuel Juette | Elizabeth Kertesz | Kathryn Kimball | Yoriko Kitagawa | Yukako Kurose | Robert van Mackelenberg | Ayako Mizuo | Mao Nishida | Sayaka Okumura | Lewis Orchard | Mali Abbiss Phillips | Kate Rhodes | Christopher Reed | Stefano Rozzoni | S&E Regional council, TUC | Michael Sharp | Keiko Shirakawa | Tony Strangis | Takako Tanaka | John Taylor | Aidan Thomson | Woking Golf Club | Susan Wollenberg | International Virginia Woolf Society

Fête Galante Supporters | 4 anonymous donors | Erica Aso | Joy Bounds | Victoria Burke | Jos Carr | Judith Chaffee | David Chambers | Alain Chevalier | Peter Christie | Norman Croucher | Bill Davy | Paola Degli Esposti | The Farnham Society | Mary Froebel | Toshiko Hayashida | Dick Hill | Didi Hopkins | Reiko Ishikawa | Setsu Itoh | Michael Jubb | Megumi Kato | Takeshi Kawashima | Masae Kawatsu | Keiko Kiriyama | Leanne Langley | David Langlois | Ian Leslie and Valerie Lewis | Hogara Matsumoto | Tomomi Minamoto | Anna Molesworth | Nobuya Monta | Colin Morris | Tetsuhito Motoyama | Lawrence Napper | Hilary Nicholls | Yoshiyuki Notohara | Michael O’Shaughnessy | Motoko Ota | Barnaby Ralph | Ann Ridler | Richard and Mary Rolton | John Rowe | Christine Flint Sato | Derek Scott | Yasuko Shiojiri | Mike Smyth | Surrey Archaeological Society | Atsuko Suzuki | Anthony Thorley | Zvi Triger | Kaoru Urano | Jim Westhead | Graham and Pauline Wiley | Woking History Society | Tae Yamamoto | Erika Yoshida

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by Retrospect Opera | Work In Progress