Opera Scotland

Nozze di Figaro 1957Sadler's Wells Opera

Read more about the opera Marriage of Figaro

Alexander Gibson here conducted a cast of long-term Sadler’s Wells stalwarts – no British opera company keeps groups of singers of this quality together anymore.  The production had opened at Sadler's Wells on 18 April 1956,  as the company's contribution to the Mozart bi-centenary celebrations.  While some of Malcolm Pride's designs were highly regarded, the direction by Douglas Seale seems to have been over-farcical.  Other ideas included the novelty of the Countess not being alone and soulful as the Act 2 curtain rises,  but sitting for her portrait, which, of course,  means that Susanna is also there as chaperone.  While critics may been less keen,  audiences lapped it up,  and it remained a staple of the repertoire, in London and on tour,  for the next few seasons.

Through the sixties the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden had several star pairings who would have crowds queuing round the block.  Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were,  of course,  the most famous.  But two other pairs were not far behind - Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell were one,  and Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable the other.  On this single tour with the Sadler's Wells company,  Seymour (still using her own name of Springbett) and Gable were barely eighteen.

The cast is for the performances in Aberdeen and Dundee,  both from programmes.  Most of the artists had created their roles the previous April,  but the opening night in London had featured the conductor Rudolf Schwarz,  with Patricia Howard,  Joan Stuart as the Countess,  Owen Brannigan as Bartolo and Charles Draper as Antonio.

 

Dundee Press Comment

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Thursday, April 11, 1957

This was a very special “Figaro”

'There was a packed house at the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee, last night for the Sadler's Wells Marriage of Figaro, reflecting Dundee music-lovers' determination not to miss this special event of the week.  So it proved - something very special indeed - providing a long evening of unalloyed delight with the sparkling genius of Mozart's music and a sumptuous production to feast the eyes.

'Lace, of most delicate quality, is probably the aptest analogy for the treatment given to the greatest comedy (as distinct from purely comic) opera ever written.  Michael Kelly, a singer of Mozart's day, told in his reminiscences how at the first general rehearsal of Figaro its effect on singers and musicians was so profound that they interrupted the proceedings to shout their “Bravos”, whereupon “the little maestro expressed his gratitude by repeatedly bowing”.  That was in 1786, and the quality of its inspiration seemed as forceful as ever on re-hearing at the present day.

'There is no single star, but four leading parts exquisitely balanced - plus three or four supporting roles approaching major prominence.  To command such a galaxy of talent is the fortune of the Wells, for the cast was of uniform excellence.  The splendour of the settings and costumes vied with the musical performance for admiration.  One particular set, that for the great hall of Count Almaviva's mansion, quite took the breath of the audience before applause broke out.  The Figaro settings were designed by Malcolm Pride, who has a link with Dundee through his father, Dr Alan Pride, of Croydon. Dr Pride was educated at Harris Academy and graduated from St Andrews University.

'Another Dundee connection involved last night's conductor, young Motherwell-born Alexander Gibson, who started his career with a Caird Scholarship. Mr Gibson (who also played the recits for the singers on a small piano) directed the opera with the greatest delicacy and taste, backed by fine orchestral playing.  The dominating impression made by the performance was that of polished teamwork.  The great concerted pieces, such as the finale septet to the second act, were delivered with elegance and precision.

'A lot of the English translation was heard - despite the fact that Figaro, Susanna, the Count, and Countess, and the other characters were expressing conflicting emotions.  And, expectedly, a lot was missed, too, because human capability of tongue and voice cannot compete with half a dozen rivals. The only thing to do is to sit back and enjoy the interplay of melody and harmony, with the orchestral commentary as added pleasure to the satirical comedy of amorous cross-relations.

'Denis Dowling as Figaro was a baritone of infinite resource, very spry vocally with his famous “philandering” song in the first act, and also with his cynical tirade against women in Act IV.  The other baritone, John Hargreaves (the Count), was impressive in his command of tone and transmitting varied emotions by vocal skill.

'To have three leading ladies of such calibre as Patricia Howard (Susanna), Patricia Bartlett (Countess), and Anna Pollak (Cherubino, the amorous page), singing with rare charm the great succession of favourite arias, was an experience which will not readily be forgotten by those present.  The humour of the intrigues was subtly underlined throughout, though never overdone.  Excellent practitioners in this speciality were Howell Glynne as the basso Dr Bartolo, and Sheila Rex as Marcellina.'

 

Sadler's Wells Opera on tour in Scotland -  1957

The four week tour of Scotland for once omitted Edinburgh, going to Aberdeen and Dundee instead.  Having been without professional opera since before the war, Dundee had received hugely successful visits by Carl Rosa in 1955 and 1956, so it was logical for the Wells to follow on, as they did annually with equal success until the theatre again became unavailable in 1961.  The repertoire in each city was similar but for Dundee not hearing Il trovatore (an extra Bohème instead) and Glasgow also getting Eugene Onegin and Puccini's Trittico.

The works performed were:  Mozart (Marriage of Figaro);  Flotow (Martha);  Verdi (TrovatoreTraviata);  Smetana (Bartered Bride);  Tchaikovsky (Eugene Onegin);  Puccini (BohèmeToscaTabarro,  Suor AngelicaGianni Schicchi).  

The tour schedule was as follows:

Aberdeen, w/c 1 April:  Mon 1  Traviata;  Tue 2  Tosca;  Wed 3  Martha;  Thu 4  Trovatore;  Fri 5  Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 6 mat Bartered Bride;  Sat 6 eve  Bohème.

Dundee, w/c 8 April:  Mon 8  Traviata;  Tue 9  Bohème;  Wed 10  Marriage of Figaro;  Thu 11  Martha;  Fri 12  Tosca;  Sat 13 mat  Bohème;  Sat 3 eve  Bartered Bride.

Glasgow, w/c 15 April:  Mon 15  Trovatore;  Tue 16  Bohème;  Wed 17  Tosca;  Thu 18  Trovatore;  Fri 19  Martha;  Sat 20 Mat  Bartered Bride;  Sat 20 eve  Tosca

Glasgow, w/c 22 April:  Mon 22  Marriage of Figaro;  Tue 23  Martha;  Wed 24  Tabarro & Suor Angelica & Gianni Schicchi;  Thu 25  Marriage of Figaro;  Fri 26 Eugene Onegin;  Sat 27 mat  Traviata.;  Sat 27 eve Bartered Bride.

Performance Cast

Figaro the Count's valet

Denis Dowling (Apr 5, 10)

Susanna the Countess's maid

Marion Studholme (Apr 5)

Patricia Howard (Apr 10)

Cherubino the Count's page

Anna Pollak (Apr 5, 10)

Count Almaviva

John Hargreaves (Apr 5, 10)

Bartolo a doctor, the Countess's former guardian

Howell Glynne (Apr 5, 10)

Marcellina Bartolo's housekeeper

Sheila Rex (Apr 5, 10)

Don Basilio a priest and music master

Thomas Round (Apr 5, 10)

Countess Almaviva

Patricia Bartlett (Apr 5, 10)

Antonio a gardener, Susanna's uncle

Harold Blackburn (Apr 5, 10)

Don Curzio a lawyer

Gwent Lewis (Apr 5, 10)

Barbarina daugher of Antonio

Joan Smalley (Apr 5, 10)

First Peasant Girl

Joan Clarkson (Apr 5, 10)

Second Peasant Girl

Sheila Hardie (Apr 5, 10)

Dancer

Lynn Springbett (Apr 5, 10)

Christopher Gable (Apr 5, 10)

Performance DatesNozze di Figaro 1957

Map List

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

5 Apr, 19.30

Gaumont Theatre | Dundee

10 Apr, 19.30

King's Theatre, Glasgow | Glasgow

22 Apr, 19.30 25 Apr, 19.30

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