American Symphony Orchestra Performs Opera By Ethel Smyth

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The American Symphony Orchestra presents works rarely if ever performed in public and its brilliant music director, Leon Botstein, insures that each season is one of genuine if sometimes uneven discovery.

Last Sunday Edith Ethel Smyth’s opera, “The Wreckers,” was performed as opera-in-concert at Avery Fisher hall.   Following a highly interesting, and amusing lecture by composer-in-residence Richard Wilson, a versatile group of singers and an excellent chorus told the story of an English village that made its living by extinguishing navigational beacons so as to lure vessels to shipwreck and open them to wholesale plunder.   There is also a love angle, not a simple one either (but this is opera).

Smyth is barely know today.   She was a personal friend of Brahms and Tschaikovsky, among others, and knew Mahler well too.   An advocate of women’s rights, she marched with the suffragettes and enjoyed an amusingly varied sex life including affairs with the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the wife of Queen Victoria’s private secretary.   As described by Wilson she was a woman I would have much enjoyed knowing.

“The Wreckers” features strong melodic lines and is essentially neo-Romantic.   Smyth really knew how to orchestrate and only her gender prevented her from being widely recognized during her lifetime.   Actually, her music slipped below the radar screen after her death and only now is slowly being rediscovered.

A very satisfying launch to the season.

-Ralph Micahel Stein

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0 Responses to American Symphony Orchestra Performs Opera By Ethel Smyth

  1. Emily says:


    I’m going to wish I had a citation for this, but I believe that the term you mean here is “suffragists.” I have heard from some other feminist blogs that “suffragettes” was a specifically derogatory term, like “oh look how cute they are.”

    But I could be wrong.

  2. rootlesscosmo says:

    Ethel Smyth, not Edith.

  3. Ann Bartow says:

    I believe Ethel Smyth is correct, but will wait to for the post author to make the correction. On the Suffragette/Suffragist issue, I think the evidence is ambiguous/murky. Some high profile women involved in the movement seemed to refer to themselves as Suffragettes. Certainly “feminist” is used as a term of disparagement by some people, but I’m not giving it up! :>)

  4. rootlesscosmo says:

    NY Times review (10/2/07):
    “After nearly a century’s absence from the opera stage, Ethel Smyth and”The Wreckers”got a second chance on Sunday. ”

    Full article:

  5. Ann Bartow says:

    As I said above, I believe that “Ethel” is correct and “Edith” was a typo.

  6. Ralph M. Stein says:

    Mea culpa for getting the first name wrong, even with the program before me. Put it to advanced age-not a lack of appreciation for the ASO in bringing this work to Lincoln Center.

  7. Ralph M. Stein says:

    From Merriam-Webster:

    One entry found for suffragette.
    Main Entry: suf·frag·ette
    Pronunciation: “s&-fri-‘jet
    Function: noun
    : a woman who advocates suffrage for women

  8. Ralph M. Stein says:


    5 results for: suffragist


    (Browse Nearby Entries)
    (down) Unabridged (v 1.1) – Cite This Source – Share This
    suf·fra·gist /ˈsÊŒfrÉ™dʒɪst/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[suhf-ruh-jist] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    an advocate of the grant or extension of political suffrage, esp. to women.
    [Origin: 1815–25; suffrage + -ist]

    :Related forms
    suf·fra·gism, noun
    suf·fra·gis·ti·cal·ly, adverb Unabridged (v 1.1)
    Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
    American Heritage Dictionary – Cite This Source – Share This
    suf·fra·gist (sÅ­f’rÉ™-jÄ­st) Pronunciation Key

    n. An advocate of the extension of political voting rights, especially to women.

    suf’fra·gism n.
    (Download Now or Buy the Book)
    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
    Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
    Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
    WordNet – Cite This Source – Share This

    an advocate of the extension of voting rights (especially to women)

    WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University