Opera Scotland

Tannhäuser 1893Carl Rosa Opera Company

Read more about the opera Tannhäuser

The cast for the first performances in Scotland of Tannhäuser was led by the Canadian tenor Charles Hedmondt and the American soprano Ella Russell, both familiar figures at the time.  If this tuneful work took a while to reach Britain, and even longer to appear in Scotland, it quickly made up for lost time, rapidly becoming the most popular of Wagner's works, and among the most frequently performed of all operas, with ten between the two cities in those early months.

Recently, however, its popularity has slumped to the point where it has not had a professional performance in Scotland since 1961, and has never been performed by Scottish Opera or the Edinburgh International Festival - not even in concert form.

The review of the Scottish premiere in the Glasgow Herald (2 May 1893) ran as follows:-

"Yesterday was a red-letter day of the present opera season in Glasgow.  The management have displayed unusual enterprise in the production of novelties. They at least began this week well by putting on the stage last evening Wagner's romantic opera Tannhauser. The Theatre-Royal was crowded in every part by an audience which, as it showed uncommon endurance for a Glasgow audience, and on the whole behaved with the reverence due to so great a work of art, must be accounted appreciative in the literal sense of the word."

"It was gratifying to those who who do not believe that the common taste of the citizens is essentially low to mark the demeanour of the house - how disturbing and untimely applause became lass and less obtrusive, till the majority reached the stage of resenting the slightest interruption of continuity. 

"The reception of the opera was indeed a triumph for the 'art work' of Richard Wagner' - though there be of course Philistines who aver that Tannhauser is tolerable only because it contains so large a quantum of the old Adam of melody and polyphony. Be that as it may, Glasgow can flatter itself on containing a good many hundreds of people who can swallow as much of Tannhauser as is offered them,  and can listen intently even to the overture thereof without the distraction of sweets or the evening paper." 

"The performance was a marvellously fine one. The chorus of praise was unanimous, and even the cognoscenti, with memories of the magnificent staging of Dresden and Berlin, were not slow to admit that, all things considered, the opera was adequately presented. The orchestra was strengthened for the occasion, and for a scratch band played reasonably well, the winds (especially the reeds) being for the most part unexceptionable. 

"As for the staging, the scene before the Wartburg and the Hall itself were excellent, and the spectacle in the latter was really brilliant; the Venusberg, on the other hand, and the ballet therein, were, to put it mildly, ultra-chaste in their attractions.  The dresses of the whole company were superb; nothing like the assembly in the Hall of Song has been seen on the Carl Rosa stage since Romeo and Juliet

Opera companies are rare that can put on a cast with so few weak points.  ... Miss Russell's impersonation of Elizabeth deserves the highest commendation. She realised the character, and played it with a dignity and true maidenly tenderness ... Both in the meeting with the hero and in the last act her acting was exceedingly strong, and if there was more life in her rendering then in that of the orthodox impersonations, the variation was the reverse of blamable.

Miss Russell sang magnificently. She displayed ample power for the extraordinary demands which the part makes on the vocalist; yet she was never more admirable than in the softer music of the fine prayer to the Virgin which follows the heart-breaking discovery of the absence of Tannhauser from the band of returning pilgrims who have received absolution at Rome.

Mr. Hedmondt's representation of Tannhauser was a fit companion to the prima donna's Elisabeth. In fire and passion he excelled himself, and though the strain occasionally told on his voice, he sang throughout most dramatically and truly. In the climax of the opera he reached a very high mark indeed in the histrionic art."

"Venus was very capably impersonated by Miss Meisslinger, who proved herself a most thorough Wagnerian, though the vibrato spoiled to some extent the pleasure of listening to her vocalisation. 

Mr Alec Marsh, as might have been anticipated, made a first rate Wolfram.  He was the most picturesque figure in the company, and played his part excellently.  His rendering of the 'Star of Eve' perhaps failed somewhat of its effect from being rather subdued, but it was really more artistic than the common stentorian rendering of the concert hall. He shone pre-eminently in the tournament of song.

The others were generally satisfactory, and the ensembles were very good indeed.  The chorus did its work in a manner little short of perfection, and the band, as has been indicated, did wonders. 

Mr. Goossens, who conducted, struck a false note at the start by repeating (horrendum nefas!) the whole of the overture in response to the very flattering applause of the audience.  He had , however, immense credit by the performance of the opera, and conducted with a sympathy and energy that might have satisfied the spirit of the Master himself had it been present."

Performance Cast

Biterolf a knight and minnesinger

Charles Campbell (1 May)

Mr W Llewellyn (17 Nov)

Elisabeth niece of the Landgrave

Ella Russell (1 May)

Marie Duma (17 Nov)

Heinrich der Schreiber a knight and minnesinger

Mr P Somers

Hermann Landgrave of Thuringia

Lempriere Pringle

Tannhäuser a knight and minnesinger

Charles Hedmondt

Shepherd boy

Minnie Hunt

Wolfram von Eschenbach a knight and minnesinger

Alec Marsh

Walther von der Vogelweide a knight and minnesinger

Rhys Thomas 2

Reinmar von Zweter a knight and minnesinger

Rudolph Lewis (1 May )

Etnan Allen (17 Nov)

Venus

Luise Meisslinger

Performance DatesTannhäuser 1893

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

1 May, 19.30 5 May, 19.30 17 Nov, 19.30 21 Nov, 19.30 25 Nov, 14.00

Royal Lyceum Theatre | Edinburgh

8 May, 19.30 12 May, 19.30 16 May, 19.30 20 May, 19.30 2 Dec, 19.30

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