The Boatswain's Mate

The Boatswain's Mate is an opera in one act written by British composer and suffragette Ethel Smyth in 1913-14. It was Smyth's fourth and most unabashedly feminist opera. The piece centers around a humorous battle of the sexes featuring a feisty and resourceful heroine, based loosely on Emmeline Pankhurst, who outwits her scheming suitor.

Performance history

The Boatswain's Mate was first performed at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London on 28 January 1916 under Thomas Beecham.

It was performed with full orchestra and chorus a number of times at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in the 1920s. Smyth's music subsequently went out of fashion and no productions had been recorded for more than 50 years until a chamber version of the opera was arranged by the Primavera Productions theatre company at the Finborough Theatre in London in June 2007.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 28 January, 1916
(Conductor: Thomas Beecham)
Mrs Waters soprano
Harry Benn tenor Courtice Pounds
Ned Travers baritone
Policeman bass-baritone
Mary-Ann (spoken)
Male chorus


Mrs Waters, a wealthy widow, has inherited a country pub called "The Beehive" from her late husband. She has no wish to remarry. Among Mrs Waters's customers is a retired boatswain, Harry Benn. When Benn's offers of marriage are rejected by Mrs Waters, he decides on a plot to win her heart. He persuades his new friend, ne'er do well soldier Ned Travers, to dress up as a burglar and terrify Mrs Waters so that she will fall in love with him. But the plan is thwarted thanks to Mrs Waters's courage (and her shotgun).


No complete recording of the 75 minute opera exists. However, two arias sung by Mrs Waters ('What if I were young again' and 'Suppose you mean to do a given thing') have been recorded by EMI as part of a CD of Ethel Smyth's music.


External links

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