Opera Scotland

Alexander Gibson Suggest updates

Born Motherwell, 11 February 1926.
Died London, 14 January 1995.

Scottish conductor.

Studies
Glasgow – Royal Scottish Academy of Music.
London – Royal College of Music.
Salzburg – Mozarteum with Igor Markevitch.
Siena – Accademia Chigiana with Paul van Kempen.

Appointments
1951-2 Sadler’s Wells Opera (Repetiteur).
1952-4 BBC Scottish Orchestra (Assistant Conductor).
1954-7 Sadler’s Wells Opera (Conductor).
1957-9 Sadler’s Wells Opera (Music Director).
1959-84 Scottish National Orchestra (Music Director).
1962-1987 Scottish Opera (Founder and Music Director).

Performances of opera
It seems almost impossible to overstate the contribution made by Alexander Gibson to Scottish musical life, initially through his leadership of the SNO, and arguably more important in historic terms – and well documented – the later creation of Scottish Opera. For his musical achievements he was knighted in 1977. Inevitably it is his time with Scottish Opera that dominated his operatic conducting career.

However in an active professional life he made other operatic contributions in Scotland, from the amateur Edinburgh Opera (Nabucco 1957) to several Edinburgh Festival productions (such as a concert performance of Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella in 1968). But the most important series of performances was in the formative period when he was able to lead “his” Sadler’s Wells Company on their annual tour. In Scotland this involved all four major cities – 1957 (Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow); 1958 (Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Glasgow); and 1959 (Edinburgh, Dundee, Glasgow). He worked hard on these tours, gaining useful experience. For instance in Dundee in 1958 he conducted four operas in one week – The Merry Widow, The Marriage of Figaro, La traviata, and La bohème. His repertoire on tour also included Tosca, Rigoletto and Madam Butterfly, as well as more unusual pieces such as Gianni Schicchi and Eugene Onegin (these last two being given only in Glasgow).

During his career, he conducted the first performances of six operas, two at Sadler’s Wells and four with Scottish Opera. These were The Moon and Sixpence (John Gardner 1957, directed by Peter Hall), The Ledge (Richard Rodney Bennett 1961), Full Circle (Robin Orr 1968), The Undertaker (John Purser 1969), The Catiline Conspiracy (Iain Hamilton 1974) and Hermiston (Robin Orr 1975).

During his years at Scottish Opera he conducted most of its Wagner, Puccini, Mozart and Verdi performances as well as Pelléas et Mélisande, Peter Grimes, The Trojans, Fidelio, Elegy for Young Lovers, Der Rosenkavalier, Don Pasquale, Alceste, Orfeo ed Euridice, Eugene Onegin, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Jenůfa and Wozzeck.

Latterly he conducted Tosca and Eugene Onegin at Covent Garden as well as Carmen and Tosca at the Coliseum. His guest operatic appearances abroad took him to Amsterdam and Copenhagen as well as the USA where he worked at Houston, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Caramoor. He was a frequent guest with the opera company at Louisville, Kentucky.

Recordings
While Gibson made many recordings of orchestral and choral music, both with the SNO and various London orchestras, the record companies opted for perhaps higher profile London-based names when they were casting their studio recordings of opera.

In the mid-70s, around the time of the opening of the Theatre Royal, EMI Classics for Pleasure made four recordings of highlights of operas from the current repertoire, and these have been sporadically available on CD. They are not perfect, having been recorded very quickly without opportunity for retakes, but are worth tracking down for the chance to hear a number of singers who did not record much elsewhere.

Lehár: The Merry Widow (in English). (Recorded 1976)
Catherine Wilson (Hanna), Patricia Hay (Valencienne), Jonny Blanc (Danilo), David Hillman (Camille).

Mozart: Don Giovanni. (Recorded 1975).
Rachel Mathes (Anna), Sheila Armstrong (Elvira), Ann Murray (Zerlina), Robert Tear (Ottavio),
John Shirley-Quirk (Giovanni), Stafford Dean (Leporello).

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier. (Recorded 1974).
Helga Dernesch (Marschallin), Anne Howells (Octavian), Teresa Cahill (Sophie), Michael Langdon (Ochs).

Verdi: Un ballo in maschera. (Recorded 1975).
Cristina Deutekom (Amelia), Patricia Hay (Oscar), Charles Craig (Gustavus), Jan Derksen (Anckarstroem).

One item is quite indispensable though horribly brief. This is an EMI recording of Dido’s death at the end of The Trojans by Berlioz. This was recorded in London a few months after the famous Scottish Opera production opened. Janet Baker restudied her part in French and no one apart from Bernadette Greevy was involved in the performances. The original coupling from LP was the cantata La Mort de Cléopâtre, and for CD this is joined, appropriately, by another of Baker’s great Berlioz recordings – Les Nuits d’été, made earlier with Sir John Barbirolli.

Berlioz: Les Troyens, Act 5 Scenes 2 & 3. (Recorded 1969).
Janet Baker (Dido), Bernadette Greevy (Anna), Keith Erwen (Iopas), Gwynne Howell (Narbal).

During his lifetime the only complete opera continuously available was an unofficial (“pirate”) recording of Tosca made at the Royal Opera House in 1957. This was notable for a number of reasons. Gibson had just been appointed as Music Director at Sadler’s Wells, so it was quite a compliment for him to be given an important debut at the Opera House. This cast featured a world-famous Tosca making her farewell, and an exciting young Italian tenor also making his debut. This performance was one of the first releases in the recent Heritage series of recordings from the Royal Opera House Archive, so should now be available more reliably.

Puccini: Tosca. (Recorded 1957).
Zinka Milanov (Tosca), Franco Corelli (Cavaradossi), Gian Giacomo Guelfi (Scarpia).

The Dutch company Ponto has released a series of recordings featuring Dame Janet Baker in live recordings. Two of these are of performances by Scottish Opera with the SNO conducted by Gibson, in classic productions directed by Anthony Besch and designed by John Stoddart. They are unforgettable souvenirs of Gibson and of the company he founded.

Mozart: Così fan tutte. (In English). (Recorded 1969).
Elizabeth Harwood (Fiordiligi), Janet Baker (Dorabella), Carrol Ann Curry (Despina), Kurt Westi (Ferrando), Peter van der Bilt (Guglielmo), John Shirley-Quirk (Don Alfonso).

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier. (In English). (Recorded 1971).
Helga Dernesch (Marschallin), Janet Baker (Octavian), Elizabeth Harwood (Sophie), Joan Davies (Annina), Nigel Douglas (Valzacchi), Thomas Hemsley (Faninal), Noel Mangin (Ochs).

Così fan tutte was recorded at the first revival of the famous 1967 production by Anthony Besch. There are perhaps two defects that need to be pointed out. First, the translation used, by Ruth and Thomas Martin, popular at the time, no longer seems quite right. Secondly the Danish tenor’s voice is not ideally sweet-toned – his career soon headed in a Wagnerian direction. In every other respect this is a most enjoyable performance of this masterpiece.

Der Rosenkavalier was recorded during the first run, when Baker sang Octavian for the only time in her career. Subsequent revivals were all in German, though many of the original cast continued to appear. The only slight disappointment comes from the performance of Noel Mangin as Ochs, a novice in the part. The last two performances in the run, in Aberdeen, had the veteran Michael Langdon making his company debut, and he learnt the first act translation specially, and then sang the rest in German. Langdon returned to the company for every subsequent performance over several years. An additional bonus is the inclusion of a recording of the prologue to Ariadne on Naxos, again featuring Baker in an Anthony Besch production. This is conducted by the Strauss authority Norman Del Mar, again in an English translation.

Bibliography
Conrad Wilson:
Alex – the Authorised Biography of Sir Alexander Gibson.
Mainstream Publishing Company (Edinburgh) Ltd, 1993.

Roles in Scotland

Conductor
Bartered Bride 1956
Nabucco 1957
Tosca 1957
Nozze di Figaro 1957
Gianni Schicchi 1957
Eugene Onegin 1957
Traviata 1958
Bohème 1958
Nozze di Figaro 1958
Lustige Witwe 1958
Rigoletto 1959
Madam Butterfly 1959
Seven Deadly Sins 1961
Madam Butterfly 1962
Pelléas and Mélisande 1962
Otello 1963
Night Flight 1963
Otello 1964
Faust 1964
Boris Godunov 1965
Don Giovanni 1965
Falstaff 1966
Valkyrie 1966
Rheingold 1967
Così fan tutte 1967
Otello 1967
Soldier's Tale 1967
Rake's Progress 1967
Alfonso and Estrella 1968
Peter Grimes 1968
Full Circle 1968
Full Circle 1968
Madam Butterfly 1968
Soldier's Tale 1968
Götterdämmerung 1968
Nozze di Figaro 1968
Trojans 1969
Così fan tutte 1969
Full Circle 1969
Undertaker 1969
Zauberflöte 1970
Don Giovanni 1970
Fidelio 1970
Elegy for Young Lovers 1970
Siegfried 1971
Rosenkavalier 1971
Götterdämmerung 1971
Valkyrie 1971
Rheingold 1971
Rake's Progress 1971
Don Pasquale 1972
Trojans 1972
Così fan tutte 1972
Valkyrie 1972
Pelléas and Mélisande 1972
Madam Butterfly 1973
Pelléas and Mélisande 1973
Don Pasquale 1973
Tristan und Isolde 1973
Lustige Witwe 1973
Catiline Conspiracy 1974
Fidelio 1974
Alceste 1974
Lustige Witwe 1974
Rosenkavalier 1974
Otello 1975
Pelléas and Mélisande 1975
Fledermaus 1975
Hermiston 1975
Golden Cockerel 1975
Elegy for Young Lovers 1975
Masked Ball 1975
Bohème 1976
Falstaff 1976
Lustige Witwe 1976
Mastersingers of Nuremberg 1976
Macbeth 1976
Otello 1977
Mastersingers of Nuremberg 1977
Falstaff 1977
Lustige Witwe 1977
Golden Cockerel 1977
Entführung aus dem Serail 1978
Jenůfa 1978
Rape of Lucretia 1978
Mastersingers of Nuremberg 1978
Pelléas and Mélisande 1978
Madam Butterfly 1978
Hansel and Gretel 1978
Bohème 1979
Orfeo ed Euridice 1979
Rigoletto 1979
Eugene Onegin 1979
Don Giovanni 1979
Wozzeck 1980
Peter Grimes 1980
Eugene Onegin 1980
Tosca 1980
Rigoletto 1980
Traviata 1981
Eugene Onegin 1981
Fledermaus 1981
Valkyrie (Act I) 1981
Manon Lescaut 1982
Tosca 1982
Gurrelieder 1983
Zauberflöte 1983
Mastersingers of Nuremberg 1983
Golden Cockerel 1983
Turandot 1984
Fidelio 1984
Vie Parisienne 1985
Barbiere di Siviglia 1985
Don Giovanni 1985
Oberon 1985
Tosca 1986
Madam Butterfly 1987
Fliegende Holländer 1987
Eugene Onegin 1988
Tosca 1990
Madam Butterfly 1991
Tosca 1993

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