Opera Scotland

Madam Butterfly 1923British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Madama Butterfly

With three performances in each tour there were two in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh in the spring, with an exact repeat in the autumn.  The most notable cast member is Maggie Teyte in the title role.  She was a famous Cherubino and, especially Mélisande, but her diminutive stature and touching acting ability made her an excellent Butterfly.

This season saw the company introducing a freshly thought out, and rather modern sounding, visual approach designed by Oliver Bernard.  It seems to have involved plain black draperies with smaller fixtures and fittings to provide several changes of scene and mood - quite a striking effect.

 

An Edinburgh View

The Scotsman of Friday, 9 March (p4) described the first of the six performances:

'From Aïda, the British National Opera singers last night turned to Madam Butterfly, with Miss Maggie Teyte as the heroine.  There have been many interesting impersonations in Edinburgh of the trusting and hapless Japanese girl, but none which reached the level of charm and côonviction attained by that of Miss Teyte.  The rôle is one which offers many temptations to exaggeration.  The pathos of the part, for example, can easily be overdone.  In Miss Teyte's inoersonation, however, there was an admirable reserve, and the unforced dignity of the tragic finale was singularly arresting.  It was a finished piece of dramatic art.  Vocally, the rendering was no less fine, for Miss teyte has a beautiful voice, which she uses with an unfailing skill and grace.

'The Suzuki of Miss Edith Clegg is now well known, and supplied an excellent foil to Miss Teyte's impersonation.  Mr Tudor Davies sang the delightful music allotted to the character in the first act with a fine expressiveness and Mr William Michael made an effective Consul.  The Goro of Mr Sydney Russell is one of the best amon his many excellent character studies, and last night it displayed the customary merit.  The Yamadori of Mr Raymond Ellis, Mr Frederic Collier as the Bonze, and Miss May Blyth as Kate Pinkerton, were all artistic.

'There was a new setting of the opera by Mr Oliver Bernard, with a background of dark curtains supplemented by a sufficiency of detail o suggest the character of each scene.  It supplied fine stage pictures, though it may be that Madam Butterfly, from its very nature, is perhaps better suited with the more familiar conventional staging.  In principle there is a great deal to be said in favour of the simple background, but it is not equally well adapted to every opera.

'Mr Aylmer Buesst conducted.'

 

Glasgow in Autumn

The Glasgow Herald of Monday, 5 November (p5) reported on the previous Saturday evening's performance:

While the production of the new Puccini opera, Gianni Schicchi, is awaited with considerable curiosity, because it showsthe composer in a different vein from this of his earlier works, there is no doubt as to the popular appeal of the operas which first brought him fame.  Madame Butterfly, like La bohème a few nights ago, rew a splendid audience on Saturday evening.  With its tragic though somewhat sordid story opera-goers must now be quite familiar, for it has been told usually with really dramatic power by a succession of notable artists, but Butterfly constantly renews its spell.

'Puccini's music has plenty of colour, and while his method of treating his themes may not be always skilful, tending to stereotyped pattern, the themes at least have a glowing melodiousness, and when the voices are reinforced by strings in unison - a distinguishing feature of Puccini's orchestration - the music undoubtedly grips the listener.

'One can recall performances in which Madame Butterfly was undoubtedly first and the other personages in the drama a long way behind.  The gap was not so pronounced on Saturday night.  Miss Maggie Teyte, who was heard in this opera during the last visit of the National Company, looks the part as well as any Butterfly that Glasgow has seen, and though her acting was not quite convincing at all times, it was generally effective, the tragic denouement being particularly well done. On the vocal side Miss Teyte's resources were hardly so strong as to shine equally with Pinkerton's in the rapturous duet which ends the first act, and at other times the lack of sustained power in the higher register was noticeable.  Her voice, however, in less strenuous passages, had a pleasing character, and invariably her singing was in full sympathy with the mood of the  music.

''As a singer Mr Browning Mummery made a splendidly effective Pinkerton.  It might be objected that he is too prone to sing to the audience when he ought to be addressing Sharpless or Butterfly, but in compensation for that artistic indiscretion there was as fine a performance of the music of the part as has been given here.  Mr Mummery's voice is of beautiful tenor quality, and he seems capable of expanding its power enormously without impairing the tone.  If the great duet was a rather unequal contest, one felt that the right adjustment of the balance would have been effected by more volume from the soprano.

'Mr Herbert Langley contrived to make Sharpless look not quite so awkward a figure in the tragedy as he sometimes appears.  The spoken passages were very impressive, and the little he had to sing was well sung.  The rest of the cast, which included Miss Edith Clegg as Suzuki, Mr Sydney Russell as Goro, and Miss May Blyth as Kate, filled their parts in a competent fashion.  The orchestra, under the baton of Mr Leslie Heward, generally played well, but the fine effect that ought to be made at the close of the second act was not quite realised - either the pizzicato of the strings was too loud or the voices humming behind the scenes were too soft; at any rate the balance was not quite truly struck.  The performance was well received, and there were numerous curtain calls for the principals.'

 

A Return Visit

There was a further performance at the mid-week matinee, which the Glasgow Herald covered  on Thursday, 8 November (p9), though rather more excited about the evening premiere of Gianni Schicchi:

'Puccini was also responsible for the afternoon music, the opera at the matinee performance being Madame Butterfly, given for the second time during the present visit.  The company always do this opera well, though, as will happen in the best regulated of human organizations, the standard of performance may vary.  At the previous production on Saturday evening, the balance of parts was not always exactly adjusted, the close of the first and second acts in particular leaving something to be desired.  Yesterday afternoon the standard of achievement was uniformly high, the love duet which closes the first act being sung by Miss Teyte and Mr Browning Mummery with a fine balance and great warmth of expression, while the opening minutes of the night-long vigil which bring the second act to a close were also entirely satisfactory.

'There was a change in the cast, the part of Suzuki being taken by Miss Constance Willis, who confirmed by her fine performance the very favourable impression she created last week in the role of Fricka.  The part of Butterfly's faithful handmaid does not give much scope to the player until the third act, but Miss Willis at all times made the most of it, and the singing of the flower duet at the close of Act II by Butterfly and Suzuki was beautifully done.

'In the third act Miss Willis was really impressive, and to her, equally with Miss Teyte, must be given the credit for a great performance.  It was perhaps the finest rendering of this tragic scene that Glasgow has ever witnessed.'

 

The Season Finale

The last Saturday of the Scottish season saw BNOC finish with a matinee of The Magic Flute before another performance of Madam Butterfly, reviewed briefly in Monday's Scotsman, 3 December (p6):

'At night in Madame Butterfly Miss Maggie Teyte gave a superb rendering of the title rôle.  Beautiful throughout in its vocal aspects, Miss Teyte's  impersonation rose to a fine passionate intensity in the tragic finale.  Mr Browning Mummery was a Pinkerton new to Edinburgh.  He sang well, but a little more restraint would have improved his impersonation.

'That kindly looker-on, the Consul, had a sympathetic exponent in Mr William Michael;  Miss Eda Bennie was an attractive Kate; Mr Sydney Russell gave his familiar bland impersonation of Goro;  Miss Edith Clegg was very good as Suzuki; and Mr Frederic Collier as the Bonze, and Mr Hugo Hills as the Prince, were both effective.

'As a whole, the performance, which was conducted by Mr Aylmer Buesst, was eminently enjoyable, and there were repeated and enthusiastic recalls at the end.  Mr Walter hyde, on behalf of his fellow-directors, and colleagues, in a few words, thanked the audience for the support which had been received during the week, and expressed the hope that next autumn, and every autumn, the Company would be able to make a longer stay in Edinburgh.'

 

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

Lieutenant F B Pinkerton U S Navy

Tudor Davies (Mar 8)

Browning Mummery (Nov 3 e, 7 m; Dec 1 e)

Goro marriage broker

Sydney Russell (May 8; Nov 3 e; Dec 1 e)

Suzuki Cio-Cio-San's servant

Edith Clegg (Mar 8; Nov 3 e; Dec 1 e)

Constance Willis (Nov 7 m)

Sharpless U S Consul in Nagasaki

William Michael (Mar 8; Dec 1 e)

Herbert Langley (Nov 3 e)

Cio-Cio-San known as Madam Butterfly

Maggie Teyte (Mar 8; Nov 3 e, 7 m; Dec 1 e)

Bonze a priest, Cio-Cio-San's uncle

Philip Bertram (May 8)

Frederic Collier (Dec 1 e)

Prince Yamadori

Raymond Ellis (Mar 8)

Hugo Hills (Dec 1 e)

Kate Pinkerton

May Blyth (Mar 8; Nov 3 e))

Eda Bennie (Dec 1 e)

Performance DatesMadam Butterfly 1923

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

8 Mar, 19.30 23 Jul, 19.30

Coliseum | Glasgow

22 Mar, 19.30 31 Mar, 19.30

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

3 Nov, 19.30 7 Nov, 14.00

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