Retrospect Opera is a UK charity with a particular interest in the work of Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), Britain’s most important female composer as well as a suffragette, notable author, feminist and of course lesbian. They have already recorded Ethel’s hilarious First World War comedy, The Boatswain’s Mate (1916). They are now raising funds to record her next opera, the mysterious ‘dance dream’, Fête Galante of 1923.
Although Dame Ethel wrote a good deal of instrumental music, opera was always her main passion and the genre in which she chose to fly the flag for women’s music at a time when women were generally not supposed capable of composing more than insipid piano pieces or songs. She wrote seven operas in all, between the early 1890s and mid-1920s. The Wreckers (1906), her most dramatic and exciting opera, was revived and recorded by Odaline de la Martinez, the notable champion of women’s music, in 1994. Odaline is now working with Retrospect Opera to get the other important Smyth operas recorded. The Boatswain’s Mate, the funniest and most tuneful of the operas, was released last year to mark the centenary of its original London production. It can now be purchased on CD: http://www.retrospectopera.org.uk/CD_Sales.html The reviews have been excellent.
Up next is Fête Galante, the most mysterious and magical of the operas, an intriguing tale of jealousy, betrayal, and impersonation featuring Pierrot, Harlequin, and Columbine. The music is unique among Smyth’s operas for its use of olden dances and there’s a beautiful madrigal setting of ‘Soul’s joy, now I am gone’, a poem by William Herbert, the probable ‘fair youth’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Retrospect’s efforts rely a great deal on crowd funding. If you can help, please do so! Anyone who donates £25 or more to the recording of Fête Galante will get their name on the Retrospect website and a copy of the recording upon release. Bigger donations get bigger rewards as the website explains: http://www.retrospectopera.org.uk/Donate.html Donations can be made online through PayPal or the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), and of course cheques are welcome too. Contact David Chandler (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Valerie Langfield (email@example.com) for more details.