Friday, April 24, 2015

Michael Mayes in rarely performed opera by Ethel Smith

Michael Mayes in Dead Man Walking (right)
Barihunk Michael Mayes will sing the role of the Lighthouse keeper Lawrence in the first fully-staged performance of Dame Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers at Bard SummerScape. 

Dame Ethel Smyth was a Victorian-born Englishwoman, and a bisexual suffragette who was marginalized by the music community. Although her one-act opera Der Wald has the distinction of remaining the only work by a female composer ever produced at the Metropolitan Opera, The Wreckers has never been staged in the United States. The production will be directed by European Opera Prize-winner Thaddeus Strassberger.

It was a local legend about the sea, heard on vacation in Cornwall, that provided Smyth with the inspiration for her third and finest opera. Composed to a libretto by her friend and lover Henry Brewster, The Wreckers depicts the nefarious Cornish coastal practice of luring ships onto the rocks to plunder them. Conflict arises in a remote village community for which, under the leadership of Pastor Pascoe, such wrecking constitutes an act of religious faith. Pitted against this community are Pascoe’s young wife Thirza and her lover Mark, who conspire to save the ships by kindling secret beacons to guide them. Caught red-handed, the lovers are tried by a village tribunal and condemned to die in a sea-filled cave.  

Michael Mayes with barihunks Wes Mason and John Boehr
The first full-length opera by an English composer to use native setting and folklore, The Wreckers (1902-04) marked the nation’s most important contribution to the genre since the time of Purcell. Thanks to the muscular vigor of Smyth’s writing, it was considered by Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor of its London premiere, as “one of the three or four English operas of real musical merit and vitality.” 

The opera will be performed at Bard’s Hudson Valley campus in the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center.  The Wreckers’ will be performed on July 24, 26, 29, 31 and August 2 and will feature the American Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of music director Leon Botstein.

If you can't wait until this summer to hear Mayes, you can catch him tonight at the Theatre of Dreams Gala for the Central City Opera. On May 15, he opens as Escamillo in La Tragédie de Carmen with Opera Delaware.

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