The Wreckers

Ethel Smyth | The Wreckers

The celebrated 1994 BBC Proms performance of Smyth’s masterpiece, featuring Anne-Marie Owens and Justin Lavender


SKU: RO004 Category:

“the piece comes over impressively in this live performance…Odaline de la Martinez brings flair and commitment to realising the regularly memorable score”

George Hall | BBC Music Magazine

Looking back on Ethel Smyth’s career in 1944, Sir Thomas Beecham declared: ‘Undoubtedly her masterpiece is The Wreckers, which remains one of the three or four English operas of real musical merit and vitality written during the past forty years’. The Wreckers, premiered in 1906, represents, in Nigel Burton’s evocative formula, ‘a halfway stage between Tristan and Peter Grimes’; in fact, it anticipates so much in the latter opera that some critics have concluded Britten was inspired by Smyth’s work.

The Wreckers still impresses as an extraordinarily resonant opera, exploring the relationship between religious fanaticism and violence and the fate of those enlightened spirits prepared to defy cruel customs sanctioned by tradition. Smyth’s surging, restless score, with the Cornish sea always in the background, carries complete dramatic conviction and rises into peaks of radiant beauty. This is a reissue of Odaline De La Martinez’s acclaimed 1994 recording with the BBC Philharmonic, originally released on Conifer Classics.

We are delighted to announce that we are re-releasing the 1994 recording of Smyth’s The Wreckers, which, until we came along, was the only commercially available modern recording of any of her six operas. Originally issued on the Conifer Classics label, it was recorded live at the BBC Proms, where The Wreckers was presented to mark the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death in 1944. Odaline de la Martinez conducts the BBC Philharmonic and Huddersfield Choral Society.

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 in modern recordings, the genre with which she was most preoccupied and identified, opera, is poorly represented. In fact, prior to Retrospect Opera’s endeavours, only one of her six operas was commercially available in a modern recording. It is that recording, of Smyth’s The Wreckers, that we are re-releasing in 2018. Having issued the first complete modern recording of The Boatswain’s Mate in 2016 to critical acclaim, we are currently crowdsourcing funds to record Fête Galante later this year.

(c) 2016,David Chandler and Christopher Wiley

The Wreckers

The Wreckers is arguably the greatest of Smyth’s operas, and certainly her most ambitious. It was her only three-act stage work and required significantly larger musical resources than any of the others. Composed in 1902–4, the opera was inspired by Smyth’s walking holiday of Cornwall and the Scilly Isles some years previously, during which she explored smugglers’ caves such as Piper’s Hole on the island of Tresco.

This brought her into contact with apocryphal tales of the locals luring ships onto rocks in order to pillage their loot, to which she added a subplot of two lovers attempting to thwart this nefarious practice by lighting warning beacons. The monumental opera that resulted was later described by the composer herself as “The work by which I stand or fall”. One of its highlights, often performed in its own right as a concert piece, is the evocative prelude to Act II, “On the Cliffs of Cornwall”.

Written with a French libretto by Smyth’s collaborator Henry Brewster as Les Naufrageurs, the opera was translated into both German (as Strandrecht) and English when attempts to secure a production in the original language proved fruitless. It was premiered at the Neues Theater, Leipzig in November 1906, prompting many curtain calls. Yet the composer, disgruntled at the extensive cuts made to the final act without her consent, withdrew her music from the orchestra pit following the opening night and, in a move she believed to be “unique in the annals of Operatic History”, took it to Prague to be played there instead (it turned out to be a woefully inadequate production). She was to wait three more years for the first stage performance in her home country, at His Majesty’s Theatre, London in June 1909; the six-night production was conducted by Thomas Beecham, who was to become one of Smyth’s strongest allies in the music profession, and it was attended by King Edward VII himself.

(c) 2018, Christopher Wiley



Smyth | The Wreckers

Music by Ethel Smyth | Libretto by Ethel Smyth, after Henry Brewster

Pascoe | Peter Sidhom
Lawrence | David Wilson-Johnson
Harvey | Brian Bannatyne-Scott
Tallan | Anthony Roden
Jack | Annemarie Sand
Mark | Justin Lavender
Thirza | Anne-Marie Owens
Avis | Judith Howarth
A Man | Brian Bannatyne-Scott

Huddersfield Choral Society
Chorus Master
| Jonathan Grieves-Smith

BBC Philharmonic
Conductor | Odaline de la Martinez

CD 1


1 | Prelude

Scene 1
1 | God’s Chosen People shall not pay the price of sin!
2 | God be thanked!

Scene 2
3 | Well may such as ye hang your heads in shame
4 | Hear then, our nets are empty

Scene 3
5 | Did the prophet say that God in his anger

Scene 4
6 | Here comes Thirza to join in our prayers
7 | Tell me comrade, have you a clue, or was it fancy?

Scene 5
8 | The wind is cold, the sky is sad
8 | Take heed, Mark, and remember the wise old saw

Scene 6
9 | Ha! Ha! Ha! The rat’s in sight!

Scene 7
10 | ’Tis she! Ah! She is wearing his flower!
11 | O Love! Love, o thou shaft of gold

Scene 8
12 | Yonder lies the house of God!

Scene 9
13 | I thought to have found you in the chapel
14 | These are the words of one distraught

Scene 10
15 | Ah! Thus should the Word be preached!

Scene 11
16 | The traitor is Pascoe!

CD 2


1 | Prelude ‛On the Cliffs of Cornwall’

Scene 1
2 | Stop, knave!

Scene 2
3 | When wilt thou give me peace from vain desire

Scene 3
4 | Mark! Not tonight! Light not the fire!
5 | Mark! You know not what wind blew me hither
6 | To love is to die and new to awaken
7 | Thirza, is it true? So dearly you love me?
8 | That ship be our fate! Dead soul awaken!


Scene 1
9 | Naught, and ever naught! Yes! Our fortune fails us
10 | Pray God for guidance and light
11 | This man betrayed his flock at the order of one who hates us

Scene 2
12 | Stay! I, Mark, am the betrayer!
13 | Hark the rising tide
14 | Closed is the court and sealed is the doom

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