Dame Ethel Smyth by John Singer Sargent
THE formidable Edwardian figure of Dame Ethel Smyth never looks – in photographs at least – like someone who could have mustered the raw passion she put into her opera The Wreckers, a piece that hid in the margins of repertoire until Glyndebourne made a decisively successful staging of it earlier this year. But then, she was a rather remarkable woman: campaigning suffragette, free-loving lesbian (whose emotional conquests included the wife of an Archbishop of Canterbury), and internationally active composer in an era when most women of her background (raised the daughter of a major-general) got their kicks playing croquet on vicarage lawns.
Having seen The Wreckers, I think extravagant claims have been made for its stature; but it is undoubtedly worth seeing. And this weekend Glyndebourne bring their show to the Proms, semi-staged to fit the Albert Hall but with enough of the production intact to appreciate its impact. Guaranteed to be a highlight of the season: July 24. Tickets: bbc.co.uk
If The Wreckers whets your appetite for more Smyth, she turns up again the following day, July 25, in a Prom that includes her Concerto for Violin and Horn. And the rest of the week brings Samuel Barber’s yearningly late-romantic Violin Concerto, July 26, with Brahms’ consoling German Requiem on July 28.
All at the Albert Hall, but also accessible live on BBC Radio 3 (which might be a better option if London’s subtropical heatwave continues: the Hall does have air-conditioning, but don’t expect too much of it).
• Two very different London opera ventures have new shows this week. In Dalston to the east, Arcola Theatre’s edgy Grimeborn Festival gets going with a production of Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea by the enterprising small-scale company Ensemble OrQuesta who’ve pulled glowing reviews for their recent work. Runs July 26-30. arcolatheatre.com
Meanwhile, in the not-so-gritty west, Opera Holland Park give the UK premiere of Little Women: an adaptation of Louisa M Alcott’s classic by American composer Mark Adamo. Hailed by the New York Times as “some sort of masterpiece” (which reads equivocally but was meant as praise), it’s been lauded in the States but taken time to reach here. See what the fuss has been about, July 22-August 5. operahollandpark.com
• More locally, Hampstead Garden Opera – who prefer to be called HGO these days – have their annual summer concert on July 23 at St Michael’s Highgate, featuring young singers in favourite opera arias about life and love. hgo.org.uk
And north London’s own period-performance band, Belsize Baroque, celebrate their 20th anniversary on Sunday, July 24 with a concert and garden party at their home base, St Peter’s, Belsize Square. Semi-pro but with high aspirations, Belsize Baroque have, over the years, nurtured many a young player into the period world through scholarships and performing experience schemes. Some have gone on to significant careers.
And the latest Leader-Scholar, Andrew Taheny, will be on show at this event – which programmes Vivaldi and Telemann, and is FREE. Just turn up, 6.30pm. Details: belsizebaroque.org.uk