Opera Scotland

Bohème 1897Carl Rosa Opera Company

Read more about the opera Bohème

The Scottish premiere of La Bohème (under the name of The Bohemians) was given in English at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, on 30 April, 1897.  The cast was identical to that of the first British performance just eight days previously in Manchester, one that had been watched by Puccini himself along with his publisher Tito Ricordi. Outside London opinion, the new generation of Italian opera composers was led by Mascagni through Cavalleria Rusticana, with Leoncavallo following on, owing to the success of Pagliacci. So the Glasgow Herald (1 May, 1897) felt it necessary to add some context - 'Giacomo Puccini, although comparatively unknown as a composer in this country, has an established reputation in his native Italy. He was the first, and may still be regarded as the head, of the new Italian school.'

In a long review of this Bohème first night in Glasgow, the critic of the Herald wrote: 'The opera at the outset was listened to almost in silence. As it proceeded, general interest was aroused. The melodic charm of the work, the grace and beauty of the orchestration, captivated the audience and critical severity gave place to genuine enthusiasm'........ 'Mr Jacquinot conducted admirably, and gave to the orchestral score its full value. The opera was put on the stage with startling effect. The Christmas Eve scene was brilliantly lighted, and the snow scene, which followed, was chillingly realistic......The crowds at times filling the stage were not mere fixed quantities. There was method in their bustling about. They really acted, and boys and girls were not the least useful in helping the general effect. The Carl Rosa Opera Company have produced operas, which, after a brief season, passed out of the bill.  The Bohemians, we venture to think, has come to stay.'

While the solo performances were generally admired, the Herald was particularly impressed by the leading soprano. 'Too much praise can hardly be given to Miss Alice Esty for her impersonation of the gentle and loving Mimì. The pathos of the dying scene was touchingly genuine. Miss Esty also sang her music with feeling and vocal purity.'

As for the translation, William Grist died just before completing it, so it was finished by Percy Pinkerton. Which one of them (if either) coined the immortal opening line of 'Your tiny hand is frozen'? The Glasgow Herald pointedly quotes the translation that evening in the theatre as 'How frozen are your fingers!'

This production went on to open the company's two week run at the Edinburgh Lyceum on Monday, 10 May. The following day, the critic of the Edinburgh Evening News, while admiring every aspect of the performance, was less enthusiastic about the work. He admitted to a great fondness for Murger's original novel, Scenes of Bohemian Life, and disliked the adaptation. 'To those who do not know the original, much of the first act will seem arrant nonsense; to those who do know it a similar result will be apparent.' Then of the music - 'If the opera had been heard before Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana or his Amico Fritz, one might have been inclined to say that a fresh vein of melody had been struck, but in nearly every bar of The Bohemians one hears Mascagni over again, repeating himself, as it were. As Puccini is the earlier composer, and may perhaps have been the inspirer of Mascagni, it is rough on Puccini, but that is the impression left upon the hearer.'

Performance Cast

Rodolfo a poet

Robert Cunningham

Marcello a painter

William Paull

Colline a philosopher

Arthur Winckworth

Schaunard a musician

Charles Tilbury

Benoit the students' landlord

Homer Lind

Mimì a seamstress

Alice Esty

Parpignol a toy vendor

Mr Jupp

Musetta a grisette

Bessie Macdonald

Alcindoro a wealthy follower of Musetta

Homer Lind

Performance DatesBohème 1897

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

30 Apr, 00.00 6 May, 00.00

Royal Lyceum Theatre | Edinburgh

10 May, 00.00 13 May, 00.00 21 May, 00.00

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