Opera Scotland

Carmen 1917O'Mara Grand Opera Company

Read more about the opera Carmen

Unusually, 1917 saw two separarte visits to Scotland by the O'Mara company, and the autumn had a complete change of repertoire compared with the spring, bringing back Carmen, which had not been seen early on.  The three Scottish cities visited in the Autumn were Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.


An Autumn Preview in Dundee

Dundee Advertiser: Saturday, October 6, 1917   (p3)

Entertainments - O’Mara Opera Company

'The most remarkable feature in recent musical history has been the popularity of opera in English.  In London, Manchester, and other southern cities it has won an attention and appreciation that it never before received.  It is fitting that Dundee should have an opportunity of helping on the good work.  That opportunity is happily provided by the O’Mara Company, which is to occupy Her Majesty’s Theatre next week.  The quality of the work of Mr Joseph O’Mara and his co-adjutors is well known here to be of the highest excellence, and recent favourable testimonies from Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds are not necessary in order to secure the company a warm welcome in Dundee.  Though some changes have taken place in the list of artists, the company as a whole is, we believe, numerically and artistically as strong as ever.

'The operas to be performed are Carmen, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Maritana, Faust, La Bohème, Il Trovatore, and The Bohemian Girl.  The novelty here - Mr O’Mara always gives us one - is La Bohème, by Puccini, the most popular operatic composer of the day.  The scenes are taken from Murger’s immortal tale of the artistic life, La vie de Bohème.  The opera is of an earlier date than La Tosca or Madame Butterfly, and contains some of Puccini’s finest and freshest touches.  Both Melba and Caruso have sung in it with immense success.

'The names of the principal artists are: - Eleanor Felix,  Jean Gibson,  Alma Lowe,  Irene Ainsley,  Mabel Dennis,  Joseph O’Mara,  John Harrison,  Charles Neville,  Henry O’Dempsey,  Flintoff Moore,  George M’Donald,  Jay Ryan, and  Joseph Griffin.  Here we have a number of old friends, and some newcomers who, in their turn, we cannot doubt, will quickly win popular favour.  The brief season opens on Monday with Carmen,  Miss Ainsley taking the part of the fickle gipsy girl, and Mr O’Mara representing Don José.'


The Dundee Critics Speak

Dundee Advertiser: Tuesday, October 9, 1917   (p6)

Entertainments - Opera in Dundee - O’Mara Company in “Carmen”

'The elements conspired in vain last night against the O’Mara Company.  Notwithstanding outside darkness and rain, a well-filled house heard, evidently with the greatest pleasure, an excellent rendering of Bizet’s greatest work.  In some respects, notably the performances of the two principal roles, that rendering would be hard to beat.

'The drama, so it has been said, holds the mirror up to nature.  Nobody in his senses has ever claimed as much for opera.  No amount of “realism” in the music will ever make an opera anything but artificial.  But its very artificiality makes opera one of the most effective temporary escapes from life that exist.  Scenes that in the spoken drama would be crude and disagreeable are softened and rounded off by the music.  We are made to feel indeed but the notes of a dying Mimì, while deepening pathos also serve to remind us that the scene is an illusion.  There is enough of life to engage our thoughts, but not enough to oppress us.  So from opera we return to the intensities of real life refreshed and ready for more serious affairs, which is no doubt one of the best boons art can offer.

'Gradually but surely Carmen seems emerging as the most popular of the operas composed during the last fifty years.  Even Faust, when compared with it in this respect, is losing ground.  This is not matter for surprise, for Carmen has many points of interest.  It has a clear and coherent story, the action is set forth in picturesque scenes that give the actors ample scope for the display of their qualities; and, above all, the music is full of vivacity and charm, and possesses a distinct colour that, whether Spanish or not, is certainly agreeable.

'It may not be customary to name a conductor first in enumerating those who have contributed to an opera’s success.  In this case, however, it is not out of place so to refer to the work of Mr Charles Risegari.  The shading of the music, the contrasts of piano and forte, the crescendos and the ever-lively rhythms were better given last night than we remember to have been the case in recent years.  The band consisted of about thirty players, nine or ten of them being ladies.  The playing, if not absolutely without loose ends, was tuneful and full of life, and always in keeping with the stage action.

'Carmen herself was played and sung by Miss Irene Ainsley in a manner calling for the warmest appreciation.  Miss Ainsley’s handsome presence does much to make the part convincing.  What more is needful to that end is found in her bold and alluring attitude and picturesque dance movements.  Nature has gifted her with a rich voice that satisfies, but does not overwhelm the ear.  In the tragic passages she was as good as in those of lighter import.  Mr O’Mara’s Don José is a well-known and admired performance.  He has never appeared to greater advantage than he did yesterday evening.  His tenor had all its old beauty and power, and his enunciation was clearness itself and a lesson to budding vocalists.

'As Michaela, Miss Jean Gibson was pleasingly gentle and sympathetic.  Her voice is fresh and lovely, and imbued with a pathetic quality that suited well the character.  The Escamillo was Mr Jay Ryan, who was spirited and vivacious throughout.  The Toreador Song, though encored, did not appear to suit his voice so well as did other bits of the score.  Miss Parsons displayed a pretty voice in the role of Frasquita, and the other parts were all competently played.  The chorus, a little light in men’s voices, sang with intelligence and plenty of animation where necessary.  Both as regards scenery and dresses the opera was brilliantly staged.

'A new prima donna, Miss Eleanor Felix, appears to-night in Cavalleria Rusticana, and Mr O’Mara will be the Canio in Pagliacci.


Dundee Courier & Argus: Tuesday, October 9, 1917    (p3)

Her Majesty’s Theatre - The O’Mara Opera Company in “Carmen”

'For the second time this year we have a visit from Mr Joseph O’Mara and his company, and the visit is doubly welcome because the fact that it is the second suggests appreciation of the first, and it is worthy of note that the week’s programme, which contains eight operas, includes only one which was played on the occasion of the earlier visit.

'Carmen is, we think, always a happy opening for the week.  It is familiar, but not hackneyed, and its vitality, both of story and music, is immense.  Of course the story is not a pretty one, and, with the exception of Michaela none of the characters are nice, but they are all alive and eminently human.  Then the music is such as can be enjoyed by all; those who love tune will revel in the “Toreador’s Song” and the “Habanera,” while to the musician there is infinite charm in the deftness of the orchestrations and in the glorious scheme of tone colour in which the opera is set.  Bizet did nothing greater than Carmen; the pity is he died so soon after its production.

'The performance last night was one of much all round excellence, and was warmly received by an audience so large that it augurs well for the rest of the week.  The cast contains many new names; in fact very few of those who appeared last night have been heard in Dundee, in Carmen at least, before.

'Miss Irene Ainsley, a new Carmen, has founded her rendering upon a splendid model.  Her voice is richer and warmer than it was in the spring, and her singing was throughout admirably effective.  She looked the part to perfection, and if her acting lacked vividness it must be admitted that it is difficult to play Carmen as she ought to be played without being somewhat objectionable.  Miss Jean Gibson’s Michaela was a dainty performance, and her duet with Don Jose was charmingly sung.  Miss Parsons, in whom everyone in this quarter has a special interest, sang brilliantly as Frasquita, and Miss Goldie was an excellent Mercedes.

'Mr O’Mara is at home as Don José.  It is a fine acting part and he is a fine actor.  His singing voice is still wonderfully good, and vocally, of course, unimpaired.  His “Flower Song” was a pure delight.  Mr Jay Ryan as Escamillo was somewhat disappointing.  His voice has not the requisite timbre for the “Toreador’s Song,” but he acted with breadth and force.  Messrs O’Dempsey and Locker were capital as the two funny smugglers, and the Quintette in the second act in which they are concerned was capitally done.

'The chorus is good, particularly in the ladies’ second, and the “Smoking Chorus” in the first act was splendidly sung.  To-night Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci will be given.'

Performance Cast

Don José a corporal of dragoons

Joseph O'Mara (Oct 8)

Micaëla a peasant girl

Jean Gibson (Oct 8)

Carmen a gypsy

Irene Ainsley (Oct 8)

Frasquita a gypsy, Carmen’s friend

Violet Parsons (Oct 8)

Mercédès a gypsy, Carmen’s friend

Miss Goldie (Oct 8)

Escamillo a toreador

Jay Ryan (Oct 8)

Dancaïre a smuggler

Mr A Locker (Oct 8)

Remendado a smuggler

Henry O'Dempsey (Oct 8)

Performance DatesCarmen 1917

Map List

Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

8 Oct, 19.15

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