Opera Scotland

Lohengrin 1928British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Lohengrin

Here (in Aberdeen) is the opening night of what turned out to be the final appearance of BNOC in Scotland.  Having toured four Wagner operas last season, there were only three this time.  Although Lohengrin was new to BNOC,  it was also in the current repertoire of Carl Rosa, which may well have reduced ticket sales, which were already slack due to the all-pervasive depression.

 

The Aberdeen perspective

The review in the Press and Journal on Tuesday, 16 October (p6) bore the headline ''Spirited Performance of Lohengrin'', and continued:

'The second visit of the British National Opera Company,  which began last night at His Majesty's Theatre,  Aberdeen,  will be watched by opera-lovers with a great deal of interest and perhaps a little anxiety.  The first visit was,  a year ago,  an unqualified success, and,  thanks to some judicious publicity,  Aberdeen's musical reputation went up with a bound.  It must be remembered,  however, that curiosity sometimes plays a part in the success of first visits,  and the season now in progress will show more decisively whether the enthusiasm of a year ago was genuine, and whether we really want high-class opera,  or rather whether we want it enough to be willing to pay for it once a year.

'No exception can be taken to the selection of operas for the week.  Seven out of the eight works chosen are more or less familiar,  but so far as diversity of theme and style is concerned,  they make an interesting bill,  and we have a novelty of first importance in Falstaff - Verdi's swan-song and the most brilliant and most masterly of all his operas - their first performance of which the company will give during the week.

'The attendance at Lohengrin last night was perhaps a little disappointing: but that need not be taken too seriously as the opera has never commanded the widest kind of popularity in Aberdeen.  It may be suggested, however, that to have led off with a stronger card would have been better policy;  it will be remembered the fillip the opening performance of The Barber of Seville gave to the visit a year ago.

'But Rossini's masterpiece is everything that Lohengrin is not, and the man who likes his opera without tears finds it perhaps a little fatiguing.  A purely musical interest does not suffice for his needs,  and Lohengrin lives by its music alone.  The action is deliberate, the story does not keep pace with the music,  and the people are a particularly aggravating and unconvincing set.  They are theatrical rather than dramatic figures - solemn, sententious folk, who live above the world of human passions  and talk about emotions instead of feeling them.

'The only bright intelligence among them is owned by Ortrud, and she is no better than she ought to be.  Elsa is human only in the moment of disaster,  when she asks the fatal question that points the only moral of the opera - that if a husband treats his wife well she should not be too inquiisitive about his private affairs.  The men are hardly more estimable, and the scenario has that childish touch that Wagner indulged in to the last.  No one takes Lohengrin's swan as seriously as he did;  like the dragon in the Ring it is more often than not regarded as comic relief.

'But when all those weaknesses are added up,  there remains the noble and beautiful music.  The music of Elsa and Lohengrin is of Wagner's most exquiaiite,  and even the contrasting music allotted to Telramund and Ortrud, though some of it is less wicked that wearisome,  has the charm of its gorgeous orchestration.  The concert room, too,  has helped to keep Lohengrin alive and vigorous.

'Although a recent addition to the Company's repertory, Lohengrin moves easily and at a brisk pace.  Early Wagner requires speeding up,  and Mr Goossens got us smartly over the dreary passages of the first act,  in whic the internal affairs of Brabant are discussed at length.  The advent of Elsa brightened things still further,  and the heavy ensemble at the end of the act was finely sung.

'The Procession to the Minster provided another excellent piece of chorus singing,  but indeed the concerted work was good all through, and Mr Goossens is to be congratulated upon an admirable rendering of a work which is a stiff test for singers and players alike.  The playing of  the Prelude,  the Introduction to the Third Act, and the Procession music was extraordinarily good.

'In the part of Elsa, Miss May Blyth realised the part musically as well as physically,  Wagner's ingenuous heroine.  She sang the beautiful music tenderly and sympathetically as well as with a fine richness and flexiibility of voice.  Miss Constance Willis gave a highly coloured and somewhat melodramatic Ortrud,  but it was all the same a strong and convincing piece of acting, and the singer's voice was quite effective in the difficult music.

'Mr Tudor Davies was a moderately successful Lohengrin.  The quality of his voice is sensuous rather than intellectual,  but he makes up in warmth and eloquence for any shortcomings in his phrasing.  He was at his best in the Love Duet, though he declaimed the Narrative finely.  Mr Robert Parker's Telramund was a careful and earnest piece of work,  well acted and sung with distinct articulation,  and with a full appreciation of the music's points and place.

'Mr Anderson's King was rich and sonorous of voice and artistic in all things,  and Mr Bernard Ross made a capital show in the fine music of the Herald.  Altogether a highly competent performance, rising at times to the level of excellence.'

 

The View from Edinburgh

When the company moved to Edinburgh the following week, The Scotsman critic went along and reported on Wednesday, 24 October (p8):

'For a number of years, popular attention has tended increasingly to shift from Wagner's earlier to his later operas.  Time was when the common knowledge in this country of Wagner stopped short with Lohengrin.  Nowadays, The MastersingersTristan,  the operas of the Ring, and Parsifal are in greater favour.  Tannhäuser retains its place in  the public affections,  perhaps,  on account of the fashion in which it allies itself with oratorio in preaching a sermon, but Rienzi The Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin are all in varying degrees neglected,  and undeservedly so.  It was satisfactory, therefore, to find the enterprise of the British National Opera artists in adding Lohengrin to their repertory rewarded last night with an unusually large and deservedly enthusiastic audience.

'It was a performance in which there was much to give pleasure.  Mr Tudor Davies has perhaps sung better here than he did last night as Lohengrin,  but such decline as was observable was from the very high standard which he has consistently maintained for a number of years,  and it was still a Lohengrin upon which it would be difficult to improve in this country,  even if not quite the Lohengrin to be expected from Mr Davies at his best.

'Miss May Blyth's Elsa was very successful.  Since her last appearance in Edinburgh her voice has gained immensely in variety of colour and flexibility,  while there has been a corresponding advance in her acting.  The Ortrud of Miss Gladys Ancrum was a splendid performance and Mr Robert Parker's Telramund was a sound interpretation.  Mr William Anderson's King was highly effective,  as was also the Herald of Mr Bernard Ross.

'Orchestra and chorus were both good, and under Mr Goossens's direction the opera as a whole was given with an enjoyable finish and attention to detail.  The opera was beautifully mounted,  and the citadel scene, in particular, was  a fine stage picture.'

 

A Glasgow Critic's viewpoint

The Glasgow Herald of Tuesday, 30 October (p10) opened its account of the season:

'The British National Opera Company last night opened a fortnight's stay at the Theatre-Royal,  Glasgow,  with a fine performance of Wagner's Lohengrin.  The first performance by the company in Glasgow,  it was enthusiastically received by a large audience,  whose appreciation of the high standard of vocal and histrionic art of the principals was expressed in continued rounds of applause.  From start to finish the opera was given with enjoyable finish and close attention to detail.

'The whole thing was admirably staged,  the citadel scene being particularly effective.  Miss May Blyth was in excellent voice.  Her Elsa was in a class by herself and it was noticeable that her acting had taken on a pleasing crispness since last she visited Glasgow.  Mr Tudor Davies also achieved a creditable measure of success,  and others in leading roles, including Miss Constance Willis,  and Mr William Anderson, also did well.  The orchestra and chorus, under mr Eugene Goossens,  were heard to advantage.

 

The Glasgow Herald critic on Thursday, 8 November (p13) added:

'There was a very large audience for the repeat performance of Lohengrin given in the evening.  Miss Gladys Ancrum was Ortrud on this occasion and her impersonation was full of interest.  With vocal colour,  an expressive use of words,  and significant movement or absence of movement,  she built up a picture of a big hater who never forgot her dignity even in defeat.  The cast otherwise was the same as last week,  and the success of the first performance was repeated.  The big ensembles were again a feature of the production,  and the beauty of the costumes in the second act completed a very effective stage picture.'

 

BNOC in Scotland 1928

This final Scottish tour by BNOC was only four weeks instead of the six enjoyed the previous year.  This is partly because the King's Theatre in Dundee, an excellent modern venue, visited for the first time in 1927,  was now a cinema and no longer available.  But Aberdeen (His Majesty's) was still a welcoming venue along with Edinburgh (King's) and Glasgow (Theatre Royal).

 

The fifteen operas performed were:

Mozart (Magic Flute);  Rossini (Barber of Seville);  Wagner (Tannhäuser,  Lohengrin;  Mastersingers);   Verdi (TrovatoreAïdaFalstaff);  Gounod (Faust);  Bizet (Carmen);  Massenet (Manon);  Puccini (Bohème,  Madam Butterfly);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);  Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana)

 

The tour schedule was as follows:

Aberdeen, w/c 15 October:  Mon 15  Lohengrin;  Tue 16  Carmen;  Wed 17 mat  Tannhäuser;  Wed 17 eve  Madam Butterfly;  Thu 18  Aïda;  Fri 19  Falstaff;  Sat 20 mat  Bohème;  Sat 20 eve  Cav & Pag.

Edinburgh, w/c 22 October:  Mon 22  Manon;  Tue 23  Lohengrin;  Wed 24 mat  Faust;  Wed 24 eve  Barber of Seville;  Thu 25  Magic Flute;  Fri 26  Falstaff;  Sat 27 mat  Carmen;  Sat 27 eve Madam Butterfly.

Glasgow, w/c 29 October:  Mon 29  Lohengrin;  Tue 30  Tannhäuser;  Wed 31 mat  Faust;  Wed 31 eve  Barber of Seville;  Thu 01 Nov  Falstaff;  Fri 02  Manon;  Sat 03 mat Carmen;  Sat 03 eve  Bohème.

Glasgow, w/c 05 November:  Mon 05  Falstaff;  Tue 06  Magic Flute;  Wed 07 mat  Trovatore;  Wed 07 eve  Lohengrin;  Thu 08  Aïda;  Fri 09  Mastersingers;  Sat 10 mat  Manon;  Sat 10 eve  Madam Butterfly.

Performance Cast

Heerufer Royal Herald

Bernard Ross (Oct 15, 24)

Heinrich Henry the Fowler, King of Germany

William Anderson (Oct 15, 24, 29; Nov 07)

Friedrich von Telramund Count of Brabant

Robert Parker (Oct 15, 24)

Ortrud Friedrich's wife

Constance Willis (Oct 15, 29)

Gladys Ancrum (Oct 24; Nov 07)

Elsa von Brabant sister of the missing Count Gottfried

May Blyth (Oct 15, 24, 29; Nov 07)

Lohengrin a knight

Tudor Davies (Oct 15, 24, 29; Nov 07)

Production Cast

Conductor

Eugene Goossens II (Oct 15, 24, 29; Nov 07)

Director

George King

Translator

John P Jackson

Performance DatesLohengrin 1928

Map List

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

15 Oct, 18.45

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

23 Oct, 18.45

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

29 Oct, 18.45 7 Nov, 14.00

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