Opera Scotland

Valkyrie 1923British National Opera Company

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The BNOC's first visit to Scotland was in the autumn of 1922, soon after the company began operations.  It seems odd that they should have returned the following spring.  This was rendered more difficult as the springtime was traditionally when the Scottish tour of the Carl Rosa Opera occurred.  True enough, they were already booked into the Theatre Royal and so the BNOC were obliged to find an alternative venue.  Such a planning mistake did not occur again, with BNOC returning to their autumn schedule while Carl Rosa were given a clear run at their traditional spring visit.

The Coliseum was a variety theatre built by the Moss company as a sister house in Glasgow's southside for the hugely successful Glasgow Empire in the city centre, on the south-eastern corner of Sauchiehall Street.  It was constructed at the same time as the London Coliseum.  This is the only occasion on which it housed opera.  It is as well that the company was BNOC, as they brought an entire orchestra whose players were familiar with the works being played.  The Carl Rosa, by contrast, brought a team of section principals, but relied on the theatre's own band to make up the numbers, and learn any unfamiliar pieces very quickly.  Had the Carl Rosa needed to use the Coliseum the results could have been disastrous, with the local players needing to sight-read a different opera ever night.

A highlight of this spring visit was undoubtedly the performance of the four elements of Wagner's Ring. They were performed in the right order, but the huge gaps between the operas throw some doubt on whether it could be rightly described as a cycle.  Rhinegold and Valkyrie opened the Glasgow season on successive evenings, but Siegfried didn't follow until the following Tuesday, with Twilight of the Gods only appearing towards the end of the final week.  It can hardly have been possible for audiences to enjoy the sense of total immersion that a real cycle involves.

In the autumn, the novelty in the single performance of Valkyrie was the local debut of Hamilton Harty as conductor, with his wife, Agnes Nicholls, as Sieglinde.

 

The Critical View

The Glasgow Herald of Thursday, 21 March (p7) gave its opinion:

'Last evening there was a very large audience in the Coliseum Theatre, Glasgow, to witness the production by the British National Opera Company of The Valkyrie.   Those of the audience who had been present on the previous evening would no doubt feel strongly the increased power and beauty of this opera as compared with The Rhinegold, and, consciously or not, would find a special enjoyment also in spending the whole of the first act in the company of mere human beings.

'Gods and goddesses, Nibelungs and Rhine maidens are always interesting when Wagner introduces them, but in spite of the fact that they display all the virtues and vices of frail humanity, we are always conscious of a certain aloofness which attaches to them, and are not so intimately concerned in their welfare as we might otherwise be.  With regard to Siegmund, Sieglinde and Hunding it is very different.  We may not love Hunding, but we can understand him. being marvellously helped in this by Wagner, who has realised so completely in his Hunding music the whole atmosphere of a remote time.

'Siegmund and Sieglinde arouse our sympathy from the moment they appear, and Wagner might have written for them in his second best manner and still have held our interest.  Instead he has provided some of his greatest music in the first act of The Valkyrie, and we place it in our mind side by side with the second act of Tristan, though the two great love scenes are widely different in their expression.  The second act of The Valkyrie does not contain any numbers which have won fame on the concert platform, but there is no falling off in the general musical interest. The third act includes the famous Ride of the Valkyries and the wonderful closing scene between Wotan and Brünnhilde, which achieves what might have been thought scarcely possible, the providing of a climax in the musical sense to all that has gone before.

''Here, then, is an opera that not only repays the best efforts of a great company but requires them if the work is to be worthily presented.  Last evening the entire presentation was on a remarkably high level and can best be described as a festival performance.  There was again a splendid cast of principals, who will doubtless not mind if on this occasion first mention is given to the orchestra.  This all-important item in every performance was a feature of the former Beecham Opera and the British National Opera wisely resolved to continue the same policy.

'Their orchestra have always been good, but at no time before, in Glasgow, have they played with so much eloquence as last evening.  They had at their service one of the finest scores in modern music and made the most of it, playing from start to finish with remarkable unanimity of feeling, splendid ensemble, and great wealth of tone.  The balance was finely maintained even in the most riotous ''tuttis,'' and the quiet loveliness which is seldom absent for long was rendered with great subtlety of phrasing.  Perhaps the brasses may be given a word of special praise, not because they are superior to the rest of the orchestra but because this section of a band is generally the last to come under perfect discipline.  Last evening they fulfilled every requirement and did so with a tone which, whether soft or brilliant, was of special quality.

'Mr Robert Parker renewed his success of the previous evening as Wotan and even carried it further, since the character itself develops considerably in the course of The Valkyrie.  Perhaps he was greatest in the last act, where the wrath of the god and his tenderness found equally convincing expression.  Miss Florence Austral, as Brünnhilde, was also very fine, rendering every detail of this great role in a manner that was completely satisfying.  There is a wide range from the Valkyrie's call in act two to the commencement of the final scene with Wotan, and only a great artist can cover it.

'As Siegmund and Sieglinde, Mr Walter Hyde and Miss Beatrice Miranda were happily cast, acting and singing their respective roles in a manner worthy of the rest of the performance,  The scene with Brünnhilde in the second act was effectively presented.

'Mr Robert Radford, as Hunding, and Miss Edna Thornton as Fricka, completed this most excellent cast, and contributed largely to the general success.  The eight Valkyries made the scene on the rock much more musical than is customary.  The voices were all good, and all that they had to sing was really sung. This last remark is applicable indeed to the entire company, who are in a position to demonstrate the vocal possibilities of Wagner to all sceptics.

'The settings, lighting, and stage groupings were again striking and effective.  The complete course of the fight at the end of the second act could not be gathered from the presentation last evening, but the darkness which shrouded the earlier part of the combat was of value, and nothing of vital importance was missed.  Mr Percy Pitt conducted, and the performance aroused great enthusiasm, indicated by long-sustained applause and many curtain calls after each act.'

 

In the Autumn

The Glasgow Herald of Saturday, 3 November (p9) returned to the Wagnerian fray for a refresher after the spring tour's Ring cycle.  The major novelty is the new conductor, sir Hamilton Harty:

'Any members of last night's audience in the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, who have attended reguarly during the week, must have felt with special force the greatness of the prelude to The Valkyrie.  In making this statement there is no desire to belittle the other items of this week's repertoire, but rather to suggest that the later Wagner, making his first appearance at the end of almost a week of performances, seems to acquire almost additional greatness, by immediate comparison with other writers for the theatre.  The remarkable music of the prelude tells the hearer at once that he is in the presence of a great creation and prepares him for great experiences.  And Wagner does not disappoint him, but maintains and even excels the power and beauty of the opening.

'Wagner is still the greatest writer of music-drama that the art can show, and The Valkyrie is one of the finest of his works, and one of the most beautiful of human creations.  It is the production of such works which will finally help to justify the existence of such a combination as the British National Opera Company.  and it was good to see that in staging it last evening they were rewarded with the encouragement of an enthusiastic audience.

'The company had provided a strong cast, and there was also the interest of a new conductor in the person of Mr Hamilton Harty.  Mr Harty made last evening his first appearance in Glasgow with the company, and to him the high standard of success attained in the performance owes a very great deal.  He at once showed himself to be fully equipped for his task, inspiring confidence in all his forces and handling the elaborate ensembles of the score with quiet confidence.

'On the musical side his work was equally satisfying.  The score obviously lies very close to his temperament, and there were very few of its beauties which he failed to make plain to his hearers.  Inner details were attended to with more than usual care, the ensemble in simultaneous attack was nearly always perfect, and he secured throughout an excellent balance between his instrumental forces and those on the stage.  That is not to say that the singers were not occasionally overmatched, but when they were it was because the orchestra, for the moment had something more important to  say.  The players were splendid last evening, and if there were one or two occasions on which they were not on the heights, these only served to emphasise the fine quality of their general performance.

'The stage performances were also on a high level.  Miss Agnes Nicholls as Sieglinde was not always equal vocally to her wonderful best, particularly in the first act, but her voice improved during the evening and she sang her impassioned outburst in the third act in splendid style.  Her impersonation throughout was that of a true artist,  and she made of Sieglinde a pathetic and appealing figure.

'The Siegmund of Mr Walter Hyde was another fine performance, also a little less free vocally than he usually is, but full of significant touches.  In combination with Miss Nicholls and Miss Austral as Brünnhilde, he made the famous scene in the second act very beautiful.

'Miss Austral sang beautifully.  She seemed to be in specially good form vocally, and her interpretation of this great role is gaining in interest and effect.

'Miss Constance Willis, a recent addition to the company, appeared as Fricka, and gave a very satisfying study of this difficult part.  She succeeded in showing her anger without losing her dignity, a thing which Wagner himself has made rather difficult, and also sang splendidly.  Her voice is of fine quality and is of good control, and she may be hailed as a valuable recruit to the ranks of the company.  Last night she made the part of Fricka very interesting, and it is not always so presented.

'Mr Robert Parker repeated his fine performance of Wotan.  He was in excellent voice and was particularly impressive in the great third act.  As Hunding Mr Robert Radford was also in a familiar role and made the most of what id really a very fine character part.  his singing and diction were among the best where all was of a high standard.

'The staging was as usual with the exception of one or two details.  One of these changes was important.  It is certainly an improvement to give a little less of darkness at the close of the second act.  Last night the action was sufficiently visible for everything to be easily followed., but it would be better if the red light allotted to Wotan could be made to illumine the entire figure and not the face alone.

'In the first act the doors did not open promptly, and what should have been a momentary but very real thrill, lost nearly all of its effect.  Also the fire went out so suddenly that one wondered if a fuse had gone.  Finally, special praise must be given to the eight Valkyries, whose singing was finely chorded and eloquent in the scene with Wotan.'

 

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

Siegmund a Volsung

Walter Hyde (Mar 20; Nov 2)

Sieglinde a Volsung, sister of Siegmund

Beatrice Miranda (Mar 20)

Agnes Nicholls (Nov 2)

Hunding husband of Sieglinde

Robert Radford (Mar 20; Nov 2)

Wotan father of the Valkyries and Volsungs

Robert Parker (Mar 20; Nov 2)

Brünnhilde a Valkyrie

Florence Austral (Mar 20; Nov 2)

Fricka Wotan's estranged wife

Edna Thornton (Mar 20)

Constance Willis (Nov 2)

Performance DatesValkyrie 1923

Map List

Coliseum | Glasgow

20 Mar, 18.15

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

2 Nov, 18.15

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