Opera Scotland

Siegfried 1923British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Siegfried

The build-up to the cycle

BNOC were already assembling their Ring production within a few months of starting operations. However, Siegfried did not receive another performance on this Scottish leg of the tour, which also included Edinburgh. 

The development of this Ring was started completely from scratch with new sets designed by Oliver P Bernard.  Sets and costumes had been made in Germany for Denhof before the Great War.  They were eventually inherited by Beecham, used in his company but not subsequently used by BNOC.

 

Spring Tour - An Edinburgh View

The Scotsman of Wednesday, 28 March (p15) gave a lengthy account:

'The story of the Nibelung's Ring reached its penultimate stage last evening when the British National Opera Company produced Siegfried in the Glasgow Coliseum.  In all Wagner's later operas an intimate knowledge of the story is essential to a proper enoyment of the performance, and to this should be added when possible a fairly intimate knowledge of the libretto.  Susch preliminary study is really of more immediate value than a memorising of the various ''motives,'' though this is not often realised.  As was pointed out long since, many of the motives are almost self-explanatory, and all of them can be fully appreciated as music even by those who do not know why they are labelled.

'Perhaps in Siegfried this preliminary study is most needed, for the opera provides almost nothing by way of action, and the interest is therefore centrwed in the dialogue.  A remarkable fact about this opera is that at no time are there more than two characters on the stage together (unless an exception be made of the first scene during the short-lived appearance of the bear.  But he does not have even a speaking part). This fact makes it even more necessary to know with some degree of fullness the subject of the various conversations.  With this knowledge a complete enjoyment of this great opera may confidently be expected.

'All that is further needed is a good performance such as was given last evening.  That the opera had made its effect with the audience was evident from the enthusiastic applause and numerous curtain calls  which marked the close of each act, and Wagner and the company may be congratulated anew on the great success of the whole production.

'Mr Arthur Jordan made his first appearance of the Glasgow season in the title part.  One of Wagner's most friendly critics finds the character of Siegfried highly unattractive and gives him no credit even for bravery.  No doubt it is easy for a man to be brave when he knows not fear, but the healthy, irrepressible animal is not the whole of Siegfried, as Wagner has been at some pains to show.  Lovers of this opera always anticipate with particular pleasure the more tender passages in the first act, and especially in the second act, where Siegfried enquires about and thinks of his parents.  Both text and music in these passages are alike simple, natural, and very beautiful, and they afford a most effective contrast to the rest of the work.

'Mr Jordan has a vocal equipment which serves him best in the more lyrical portions of the part, and the fine quality of his voice, combined with the artistry of his singing, made those tenderer passages enjoyable in the fullest sense.  For the more robust work that accompanies the forging of the sword his voice proved scarcely big enough, but, except for this his rendering of the whole part was entirely good.  The acting was easy and natural and he presented this great role in a manner that made it entirely sympathetic, the Wagnerian critic notwithstanding.

'Mr Sydney Russell was a most excellent Mime, repeating and increasing the success of his impersonation in Rhinegold. It is a very clever character-study that Mr Russell offers, and admirable both vocally and as acting.  The colour of his singing from start to finish covers a very wide range.

'Mr Robert Parker was again Wotan.  This most ungodlike god, who never seems to get his own way in anything that matters, appears in Siegfried as a ''Wanderer,'' journeying about the world, watching the development of the tragedy that he himself has prepared.  After his encounter with the young hero in the third act, he retires from the scene to await the end, and his voice is heard no more.  In the case of some Wotans not much regret is felt, but Mr Robert Parker has taken this role with so much distinction throughout that it is permissible to wish that something still remained for him to do before the close of the Dusk of the Gods ends all things.

'Mr William Michael was again good as Alberich, while Mr William Anderson as Fafner was duly impressive.  Not so the dragon itself, which aroused more mirth than dread.

'Miss Florence Austral as Brünnhilde was in splendid voice, and in conjunction with Mr Jordan made the closing scene fully effective both as regards its beauty and its brilliance.  The cast was completed by Miss Doris Lemon as the Wood Bird and Miss Edna Thornton as Erda.  Mr Julius Harrison conducted, and the orchestra played the wonderful score in fine style, though not with the same perfection of finish which so dictinguished their work in The Valkyrie a week ago.'

 

Performers

To some extent even the singers were inherited - Sydney Russell, the Mime in 1910, repeats the role here, though concentrating on other character parts when with the Beecham company.

It is also interesting to note Florence Austral performing in Scotland. Though Austral is the most famous of the company's dramatic sopranos, and left several recordings, in Scottish tours Brünnhilde was more usually the preserve of Gladys Ancrum or Beatrice Miranda.   

Julius Harrison was also seen as a Wagner specialist, yet this is the first time we find him conducting Wagner in Scotland.

 

Edinburgh reaction in November

The following morning's Scotsman (Friday, 9 November) was generally enthusiastic:

'Siegfried, the third section of the Ring cycle, was presented at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, last night, by the British National Opera Company, before an enthusiastic audience which filled the house.  The rendering given of the work was worthy of the highest praise. 

'The part of Siegfried was taken by Mr Walter Widdop, a new addition to the Company, and, while his voice was hardly big enough for the strenuous and continuous singing, he gave a very fair representation. The rich beauty of Mr Robert Parker's sonorous voice was heard to great advantage in the part of the Wanderer, especially in the first scene during his visit to the cave of the dwarf Mime.  Mr Sydney Russell took the rather exacting part of Mime, and his almost cold and impersonal voice, together with his perfect acting and clear enunciation, gave a very complete and artistic personation of the man warped both in body and mind. 

'Miss Florence Austral was in her favourite role of Brünnhilde, her rich tones giving the greatest pleasure. 

The minor parts were well filled by Mr William Michael as Alberich, Mr William Anderson as Fafner, Miss Muriel Brunskill as Erda, and Miss Doris Lemon as the Wood Bird.

'The stage setting and the lighting effects were excellently carried out, the many pitfalls of the second act being avoided by very clever stage management.

The orchestra, under the capable direction of Mr Julius Harrison, although occasionally apt to overwhelm the voices of the singers, gave an almost perfect rendering of the score from the quiet mystery of the opening bars to the triumphal ecstasy of the final duet.'

 

Autumn in Glasgow

The Glasgow Herald of Friday, 9 November (p10) reported on the previous evening's performance of Siegfried.  Where all four Ring elements had been given as a loosely connected cycle in the spring, this time it was just the two most popular works, with Valkyrie having been given the previous week:

'Last night in the Theatre Royal the British National Opera Company staged Siegfried during their present Glasgow season.  Disappointment has been expressed in one or two quarters that the entire Ring cycle has not been included in the programmes for these four weeks, but even the most willing of opera companies cannot perform everything that is worth doing in the course of a limited season, and if the whole cycle could not be done on this occasion, the directors, in choosing The Valkyrie and Siegfried, have selected two of the very finest of Wagner's works.  Of these, Siegfried is probably less atractive on a first hearng than The Valkyrie, but it is no less beautiful and only requires to be known to inspire a true and lasting affection.

'Last night a good perfornace brought out its fine qualities and aroused the enthusiasm of a large audience.  An added interest attached to the production, for it introduced to Glasgow opera-goers a new tenor, Mr Walter Widdop, in the part of Siegfried.  New tenors are comparatively rare in this country, and new tenors who have the courage to make their first appearance before a strange public in so exacting a role as Siegfried are rarer still.  Mr Widdop's courage naturally led his hearers to hope for great things, and it is pleasing to be able to report that their hopes were justified.

'Mr Widdop's voice is of true tenor quality, full, rich, and even, with the exception of one or two notes at the top of his range, which seem less free than the rest of his compass, and are less finely resonant.  His diction is remarkably good, his phrasing excellent, and he employs a wider range of tone colour than is sometimes offered by grand opera singers.  Only in regard to the histrionic side of his art is he wanting, and here he has still much to learn.  This is not surprising in view of the fact that he made his stage debut only a month ago, and bearing that in mind his performance of last evening was full of real promise.  For the part of Siegfried is one that offers special difficulties to an inexperienced artist, there being o many occasions on which, though no very obvious action is called for, something must be done to maintain interest in the dramatic side of the interpretation.

'The second act, in particular, offers many little problems of this kind, and Mr Widdop did not always solve them.  But it may safely be predicted that he will do so, and probably very soon, for he is undoubtedly an artist of great intelligence.  He can also be finely sympathetic, as he showed clearly in the touching scenes in the first and second acts, where he thinks of his father and mother.  Here the tenderness of his singing was highly enjoyable, and his phrases were delivered with a rare beauty of tone.  Throughout the performance there was a finely lyrical quality in all his singing, which is no doubt the kind that Wagner wished to have, though it is not always supplied.  Mr Widdop  is a most promising new member of the company, and his further appearances will be looked for with interest.

'The remainder of the cast was as usual, with the exception of Miss Muriel Brunskill, who last night sang with fine effect the part of Erda.  Miss Florence Austral sang brilliantly in the closing scene, and Mr Robert Parker, as the Wanderer, was particularly fine in the third act, making Wotan's exit from the Nibelung drama a very impressive thing.  In the first act his occasional tendency to get a little above pitch  lessened the power of his singing.

'Mr Sydney Russell seemed to be suffering from a cold which made his voice less powerful than usual in big moments but his impersonation of the despicable but fascinating Mime was one of the best he has given.  Mr William Michael was good as Alberich, the incisive quality of his singing being highly commendable while Mr William Anderson as Fafner fulfilled all requirements.  Miss Doris Lemon was the Wood Bird.  Apart from a slight hitch in connection with her first entry the whole performance went well, and much credit is due to Mr julius Harrison and the orchestra for the high quality of their all-important services.'  

 

BNOC in Scotland - 1923 (Spring & Autumn)

The company's Spring visit lasted five weeks - two in Edinburgh (King's Theatre) and three in Glasgow (at the Coliseum, as the Theatre Royal was not available).

Returning in the autumn, the visit again lasted five weeks - four in Glasgow (this time at the Theatre Royal) and one in Edinburgh (King's Theatre).

The 29 operas performed were Bach (Phoebus and Pan);  Mozart (Seraglio,  Marriage of Figaro,  Magic Flute);  Wagner (Tannhäuser,  Mastersingers,  Rhinegold,  Valkyrie,  Siegfried,  Twilight of the Gods);  Verdi (TrovatoreAïda Otello);  Gounod (Faust);  Bizet (Carmen);  Saint-Saëns (Samson and Delilah);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);  Puccini (Bohème,  Tosca,  Madam Butterfly,  Gianni Schicchi);  Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana);  Humperdinck (Hansel and Gretel);  Debussy (Pelléas and Mélisande);  Charpentier (Louise);  Smyth (Boatswain's Mate,  Fête Galante);  Holst (Savitri,  Perfect Fool).

The schedule was as follows:

Spring

Edinburgh, w/c 5 March:  Mon 5 Samson and Delilah;  Tue 6 Marriage of Figaro;  Wed 7 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 7 eve Aïda; Thu 8 Madam Butterfly;  Fri 9 Carmen;  Sat 10 mat Phoebus and Pan & Pagliacci;  Sat 10 eve Trovatore.

Edinburgh, w/c 12 March:  Mon 12 Seraglio;  Tue 13 Tannhäuser;  Wed 14 mat Marriage of Figaro;  Wed 14 eve Hansel and Gretel;  Thu 15 Magic Flute;  Fri 16 Mastersingers;  Sat 17 mat Bohème;  Sat 17 eve Faust.

Glasgow, w/c 19 March:  Mon 19 Rhinegold;  Tue 20 Valkyrie;  Wed 21 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 21 eve Phoebus and Pan & Pagliacci;  Thu 22 Madam Butterfly;  Fri 23 Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 24 mat Magic Flute;  Sat 24 eve Trovatore.

Glasgow, w/c 26 March:  Mon 26 Seraglio;  Tue 27 Siegfried;  Wed 28 mat Samson and Delilah;  Wed 28 eve Louise;  Thu 29 Phoebus and Pan & Pagliacci;  Fri 30 Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 31 mat Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 31 eve Madam Butterfly.

Glasgow, w/c 2 April:  Mon 2 Carmen;  Tue 3 Mastersingers;  Wed 4 mat Bohème;  Wed 4 eve Samson and Delilah;  Thu 5 Magic Flute;  Fri 6 Twilight of the Gods; Sat 7 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 7 eve Aïda.

Autumn

Glasgow, w/c 29 October:  Mon 29 Magic Flute;  Tue 30 Samson and Delilah;  Wed 31 mat Phoebus and Pan & Pagliacci;  Wed 31 eve Bohème;  Thu 1 Nov Aïda;  Fri 2 Valkyrie;  Sat 3 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 3 eve Madam Butterfly.

Glasgow, w/c 5 November:  Mon 5 Savitri Perfect Fool;  Tue 6 Louise;  Wed 7 mat Madam Butterfly;  Wed 7 eve Cavalleria Rusticana & Gianni Schicchi;  Thu 8 Siegfried;  Fri 9 Otello;  Sat 10 mat Magic Flute;  Sat 10 e Faust.

Glasgow, w/c 12 November:  Mon 12 Aïda;  Tue 13 Mastersingers;  Wed 14 mat Samson and Delilah;  Wed 14 eve Savitri & Perfect Fool;  Thu 15 Tosca;  Fri 16 Bohème;  Sat 17 mat Fête Galante & Bosun's Mate;  Sat 17 eve Phoebus and Pan & Gianni Schicchi.

Glasgow, w/c 19 November:  Mon 19 Faust;  Tue 20 Otello;  Wed 21 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 21 eve Aïda;  Thu 22 Pelléas and Mélisande;  Fri 23 Fête Galante & Boatswain's Mate;  Sat 24 mat Cav & Pag;  Sat 24 eve Magic Flute.

Edinburgh, w/c 26 November:  Mon 26 Aïda;  Tue 27 Louise;  Wed 28 mat Fête Galante & Boatswain's Mate;  Wed 28 eve Phoebus and Pan & Gianni Schicchi;  Thu 29 Pelléas and Mélisande;  Fri 30 Savitri & Perfect Fool;  Sat 31 mat Magic Flute;  Sat 31 eve Madam Butterfly.

Performance Cast

Mime a Nibelung, Siegfried's fosterer

Sydney Russell (Mar 27; Nov 8)

Siegfried son of Siegmund and Sieglinde

Arthur Jordan (Mar 27)

Walter Widdop (Nov 8)

Wanderer Wotan in disguise

Robert Parker (Mar 27; Nov 8)

Alberich a Nibelung

William Michael (Mar 27; Nov 8)

Fafner disguised as a dragon

William Anderson (Mar 27; Nov 8)

Woodbird

Doris Lemon (Mar 27; Nov 8)

Erda mother of the Norns and Valkyries

Edna Thornton (Mar 27)

Muriel Brunskill (Nov 8)

Brünnhilde now a mortal

Florence Austral (Mar 27; Nov 8)

Performance DatesSiegfried 1923

Map List

Coliseum | Glasgow

27 Mar, 18.00

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

8 Nov, 18.00

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