Opera Scotland

Carmen in Scotland

Posted 11 Oct 2015

The first performance in Scotland of Carmen was on 3 March 1879 at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Glasgow by the Italian Opera. They sang in Italian, though the Carmen, Zélia Trebelli-Bettini was herself French. Five years later she introduced the opera to the New York Met. Her José, Francesco Runcio, will have had no difficulty with the Italian, though some years later he returned to sing it in English with Carl Rosa.

The following year, two companies toured, performing Carmen in English. Emily Soldene's career had started in music hall, and she sang Carmen in repertoire with operettas by Offenbach and Lecocq in the four Scottish cities. Her tenor was one Signor Leli. A native of Arbroath, James Durward Lyall had just returned from several years in Italy, and went on to a long and successful career as Durward Lely. Her conductor was brought in from Belgium, and Eugène Goossens stayed, producing a large dynasty of excellent British musicians.

The second English-language company was Carl Rosa, who played the grander version with recitatives. The opera was hugely successful, and never left the company's repertoire during the next eighty years. In the late Victorian and Edwardian period there were a great many performances. During that time the two most familiar Carmens were Marie Roze (French) and Zélie de Lussan (American). But Carl Rosa also fielded the Scot Georgina Burns and English soprano Fanny Moody in the role. Their Josés included tenors from Ireland (Barton McGuckin), Romania (Jean Dimitresco), Scotland (Durward Lely) and Canada (Charles Hedmondt). The other roles were equally international, and when Fanny Moody and her husband started the Moody-Manners company, star tenors included Frank Christian, from Germany, and a Russian, Philip Brozel.

Between the wars, the opera remained as popular as before, even if the singers were more home-grown. Companies included Beecham, British National and O'Mara (himself an excellent José), as well as Carl Rosa. After the second war, Carl Rosa re-introduced some continental performers including Marina de Gabarain (Spanish) and Gita Denise (Czech). British baritones seen as Escamillo in the fifties included Geraint Evans (with the Covent Garden company) and Peter Glossop (with Sadler's Wells). The tradition of performing in English continued up to 1972, when Sadler's Wells paid its last visit to Edinburgh – Charles Mackerras conducted a memorable staging by John Copley, with Ann Howard and David Hughes in magnetic form in the lead roles. For the first time in nearly a century, the original dialogue was restored.

There is no doubt that the most famous production of Carmen in Scotland was the stylish and subtle Edinburgh Festival production of 1977. The Scottish Opera Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, director/designer Piero Faggioni and conductor Claudio Abbado combined to provide a thrilling account of the score, with Teresa Berganza and Plácido Domingo the wonderful leads. Little remarked on at the time was that this was the first occasion when Carmen was performed in Scotland in its original French.

Since then, Scottish Opera have also staged the work, beginning in 1987 with an interesting production by Graham Vick, conducted by John Mauceri, set in a bull-ring of chairs, and sung in English. This saw the Scottish debut of the great Russian baritone Sergei Leiferkus as Escamillo. The 1991 revival, in French, had an excellent cast led by Jean Rigby and Arthur Davies. Ainhoa Arteta and Greer Grimsley gave very strong performances as Micaëla and Escamillo. The current production, by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, opened in 1999, led by Patricia Bardon and John Hudson. The last revival, in 2006, had Andrea Szántó and Peter Auty as Carmen and José, with Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Escamillo.

Scottish Opera's first acquaintance with the opera was a small-scale touring production in 1985, directed by Keith Warner – towards the beginning of his notable career – and accompanied by the young pianist Gerald Moore, with Maria Jagusz as Carmen. A second touring production in 2010, directed by Ashley Dean, featured Rebecca Afonwy-Jones and Annie Gill as Carmen with Robyn Lyn Evans and Nicholas Ransley as Don José.

 

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