Written by Dame Ethel Smyth, English composer and leader in the women’s suffrage movement, The Wreckers was first performed in Germany in 1906 and was mounted in the composer’s homeland in 1909. This powerful three-act opera about piracy, love, and betrayal in a community of religious fanatics was staged for the first time in the U.S. in 2015 at Bard SummerScape, in a penetrating production directed by Thaddeus Strassberger.
In small, desperately poor villages on Britain’s Cornish coast, bands of villagers formed secret cadres that at critical moments would extinguish the beacons established on the coast to guide ships, thus forcing them onto the rocks and then plundering the cargo and murdering the crews.
The story Smyth chose to set presents a tale that should be of intense interest to contemporary audiences. It concerns an isolated community in Cornwall that possesses a religiously based, fanatical self-regard that leads it to justify theft and murder as God-given rights and virtues. Led by the community’s own pastor who invokes Christianity, violence becomes the instrument of realizing God’s will. The opera depicts the consequences of mass hysteria and populist justice, framed by a powerful display of orchestral writing, memorable motivic recurrence, and a brilliant use of chorus.
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Leon Botsein and stage director Thaddeus Strassberger talk about the process of collaborating on the production along with valuable insights into this important work and its composer Dame Ethel Smyth.
Composed by Ethel Smyth
Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director
Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger