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Wreckers, The [Les naufrageurs; Strandrecht]locked

  • Stephen Banfield

Extract

Lyrical drama in three acts by ethel Smyth to a libretto in French by Henry Brewster and Smyth; Leipzig, Neues Theater, 11 November 1906.

Set in Cornwall at the time of John Wesley’s travels (mid-18th century), the plot concerns a poor, isolated community and the tragic struggle of two of its members to escape its oppressive values. Mark (tenor), a young fisherman, is in love with Thirza (mezzo-soprano), who has come to the village from elsewhere and is alienated from her older husband Pascoe (bass-baritone). Pascoe is the village headman and preacher, who condones the practice (source of the local livelihood) of putting the lighthouse out of action on stormy nights, thereby luring ships on to the rocks for plunder; indeed, in Act 1, he attributes the current dearth of wrecks to the villagers’ sinfulness. Avis (soprano), however, daughter of the lighthouse-keeper Lawrence (baritone), knows better: someone is lighting a beacon on the cliffs to warn the ships. Herself in love with Mark, who has cast her off, she also knows about Mark’s involvement with Thirza and hints about it to Pascoe. A ship is driving on to the rocks, and in Act 2, set on the cliffs, Mark is about to light the warning beacon when Thirza enters and implores him not to because the cliffs are being watched. They sing a passionate duet and decide to run away together, but Thirza lights the torch and Pascoe sees them departing. He faints by the fire, where he is discovered by the villagers who, believing him the culprit, haul him off for trial in a sea cave which is the setting for Act 3. He refuses to betray his wife, but when Avis’s attempts first to accuse Thirza of bewitching Pascoe and then to save Mark (when he owns up) are unsuccessful, the lovers are left to die together in the cave as the rising tide engulfs them....

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