Opera Scotland

Faust 1869Corri's Grand English Opera Company

Read more about the opera Faust

Within a decade of its premiere, Faust was already firmly established as a popular favourite suitable for a Saturday night. On such occasions, the masses of students assembled in the gallery traditionally sang a large repertoire of popular songs in the half-hour before the performance and during the intervals. It also quickly became accepted that in those communities with some form of military base the forces on stage might be suitably augmented. Thus the band of the Dundee Artillery Volunteers was here made available to beef up the orchestra for the Soldiers' Chorus.

The shortcomings of the Dundee theatre were becoming obvious.  But fifteen years would pass before an acceptable replacement would be constructed.

 

Dundee Advertiser: Tuesday, 6 April 1869 (p3)

English Opera – the Dundee Theatre Royal – Faust

Entertainment by the ‘Gods’

'On Saturday night the Dundee Theatre Royal was crowded in gallery and boxes, and the pit was comfortably filled, to hear Gounod’s popular opera of Faust.  The dress stalls, however, were not as full as they might have been, but, taken as a whole, the house was an encouraging one, and one which could help Mr Corri to recoup the loss which he must have made in the beginning of the week.

'As had been previously whispered, and fully expected, the ‘gods’ on Saturday night condescended to regale the ears of the humble mortals below with a selection of songs, ballads, and choruses; and performed their extempore part with a heartiness and enthusiasm which left nothing to be desired.  By seven o’clock the centre of the gallery was occupied by a knot of young gentlemen, evidently known to each other, who formed a select choir, and who in course of a few minutes were quickly surrounded by a very large and effective chorus.  When the first attempt to start a chorus was made, it awakened the derisive laughter of those who had never listened to the ‘gallery choruses’ of other provincial opera houses, but holding steadily on, the singers soon vanquished the ‘sniggerers,’ and, as they gave out in splendid style the grand old national anthem, ‘God Save the Queen,’ the audience uncovered and rose to their feet as if by one consent.  When the full chorus came in, the effect, to a musical ear, was really grand; and it became evident that the singers were the flower of some of our best local societies – so tasteful was the execution, and so rich and artistic was the effect.  It is not too much to say that the quantity of tone was about the finest, for a male chorus, we have ever heard.  ‘Rule Britannia’ followed ‘God Save the Queen,’ and then came a German song, with a chorus all vowels, and, like the sea serpent, of indefinite length, but which took immensely.  ‘Beautiful Star,’ ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ ‘John Brown,’ the ‘Soldiers’ Chorus’ &c., were also given, and given so well that the Theatre rang again and again with the applause they evoked.  Only once or twice was the harmony of the gods like to be broken in upon, but the moment anyone attempted to shout out a name, he was saluted with a ‘dismal universal hiss,’ and order was strictly maintained.  A very ludicrous incident occurred in connection with one ‘old party,’ who had evidently been enjoying the good things of this life in a liquid form before he set up for being a celestial.  After several times attempting to interrupt the singers, he at last bethought himself of starting on his own account, and accordingly commenced in hideous accents – ‘Taste life’s glad moments!’ but got no further, for in an instant he was collared by the watchful constable on duty, and bundled outside to taste them on the staircase, amid the shouts of the gallery!

'At intervals between the acts of the opera, the choruses were renewed, but the moment the orchestra began to ‘screw up’ the choruses ceased.  It was also noticeable that when the select choir repeated any verse pianissimo, or as an echo, the rest of the gallery very considerately and artistically kept silent, and only came in with thundering effect at the chorus.  It is seldom indeed that we have the opportunity of hearing anything half so good in the way of a male voice chorus; and we have only unqualified commendation to give to volunteer performers for the excellence of the treat they furnished to the audience independently of the opera, for they were loudly applauded from all parts of the house.  We hope that next Saturday their Apolloships will be equally propitious, and that not only the deities of the gallery, but the super-celestials of the ‘cock-loft’ will set as admirable an example of good behaviour as they did on Saturday night.

'It may be mentioned that, just before the gallery chorus began, and when chaffing of individuals was being attempted,  Mr M’Neill, the lessee of the Theatre, appeared in the gallery, and urged the gentlemen for their own sake to appoint a Chairman, which orderly proposal was greeted with ‘Three cheers for Mr M’Neill!’ most heartily awarded.  The singing, however, began immediately after, so that no Chairman – and not even a conductor – was needed, the chorus keeping together in time, tune and taste so perfectly as to be its own conductor.

'Not many in Dundee believed, when first the present series of operas was announced, that such a class of entertainment could be given here even tolerably, far less satisfactorily.  It was supposed impossible fairly to represent the leading operas of the day, by which London audiences are charmed, and its critics made eloquent, in a small Theatre such as ours, where the stage is so close to the eye of the audience that even the most trifling minutiae would be obtrusively apparent; in a house having not the most favourable acoustic properties; on a stage of confessedly limited proportions; with an orchestra space so cramped that the players have barely elbow room, &c. Reasonably enough were such doubts entertained.  With ordinary talent, such as that of second- and third-rate artistes, the opera does require far more accommodation and greater facilities to render it palatable than Dundee is yet able to provide. But the past week’s efforts of Mdlle Gilliess, Miss Harrison, Mr Parkinson, Messrs Henri and Haydn Corri, Mr Cook, Mr Pew (with his well appointed little band), and of the company as a whole, have overcome, or at least put out of view, the prognosticated difficulties, and proved how much genuine ability and enthusiasm can accomplish in the face of such obstacles. We do not mean to imply that by the performances of last week, increasingly brilliant and successful as they have been, the six operas were each given in all their perfection. That is simply an impossibility. Scenery, chorus power,' instrumentation, and other elements such as the house is unfit for, are essential to such an issue. But we do say that everything, and even much more than could have been under the conditions anticipated, has been done towards presenting a faithful and most enjoyable representation of these works.

In this respect the production of Gounod’s beautiful and truly difficult opera, Faust, on Saturday, was almost marvellous. Few operas depend more upon scenic effect and its adjuncts for success. Its music is of a kind not altogether appreciable by ordinary musical minds. There are few airs – tunes – in it which can be lodged in the memory, such as those which Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti, or even Verdi have given. The soldiers’ chorus, and that of the old men and women, and perhaps an extract from Marguerite’s music in the garden scene, are about all the melody that has yet shaped itself in the public ear. Certain indefinite beauties, more harmonic than melodic, are constantly turning up during the performance, which render the work one of the most charming of operas; but otherwise its chief attraction, apart from scenery, lies in the story and the way it is told by the artists.

So interesting were the singing and acting of the principal characters, that, with all the peculiarities we have above hinted at, it is doubtful if any of the preceding evenings afforded more real delight to the audience. We would fain enter into detail, but must not. The work is cast for this week again, and our readers should make it a point to see Mr Parkinson’s Faust, which is an admirable piece of art; and to those who may have seen this opera elsewhere by other artistes we take leave to say that they will find Mr Henri Corri’s Mephistophiles to be unsurpassed (although, from very pleasant reasons, we believe Mr Corri will not re-assume his part on this occasion). We must in justice notice that Mr Parkinson’s talents, both natural and acquired, have shone with uncommon lustre during the past week. A tenor of such purity and real musical power of tone is rarely to be met with. This, combined with a style of delivery at once easy and expressive of true dramatic feeling, invests his performances with a charm more easily felt than described. His Faust, in this respect, was very fine.

Mr Haydn Corri, on this occasion, rose beyond all expectation. His acting, as well as his singing, was remarkably good. He was in excellent voice, and showed that when so he knew how to use one of the most equally-balanced baritone registers it has been our pleasure ever to hear. His acting was unexceptionable.

Miss Harrison’s Siebel was all that could be desired, even from a lady of her unquestioned ability as a vocalist and actress.

Miss Kate Villiers, of whom we have not had much opportunity to judge, sustained the part of Marguerite with fair acceptance, and gave evidence of that talent which time and experience will yet develop into greatness. She sings most neatly, and with accuracy of intonation. Her acting is quiet and unobtrusive to a fault, but this is the extreme on which it is safest to err. There is always hope on this side; none for those who overdo.

Performance Cast

Faust a learned doctor

William Parkinson

Méphistophélès the devil

Henry Corri

Valentin Marguerite's brother

Haydn Corri

Marguerite

Kate Villiers

Siébel a student of Dr Faust, in love with Marguerite

Fanny Harrison

Performance DatesFaust 1869

Map List

Theatre Royal, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

12 Mar, 19.45 18 Mar, 19.45

Theatre Royal, Dundee | Dundee

3 Apr, 19.30 7 Apr, 19.30

Corn Exchange Hall, Kilmarnock | Kilmarnock

24 Apr, 19.30

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