Opera Scotland

Mastersingers of Nuremberg 1927British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Meistersinger von N├╝rnberg

The British National Opera Company (BNOC) was established in 1922 and operated successfully, performing in English, until the economic depression began.  Its debts accumulated so that by 1928 its deficit was serious.  In 1929 it was taken over as the Covent Garden English Opera.  It is therefore, to a degree, the forerunner of the present Royal Opera.

It toured to Glasgow or Edinburgh pretty much annually, with a larger orchestra than usual for touring companies, and featuring performances by many of the greatest singers in the English-speaking world.  In 1927, by which time it was already struggling financially, it made its longest Scottish tour, lasting six weeks.  Not only did it spend a fortnight in Glasgow, followed by a similar period in Edinburgh, but it then made its first visit north of the central belt.  A week in Aberdeen was followed by one in Dundee.  Wagner was a staple of the repertoire.  Mastersingers was seen in all four cities.  Tannhäuser in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Valkyrie in Glasgow and Dundee;  Twilight of the Gods in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

It was the company's standard practice to give eight performances each week.  This today seems an astonishing, if not actually reckless, form of activity.  For example, the eight operas in Dundee were: Mon Mastersingers;  Tue Barber of Seville;  Wed mat Marriage of Figaro;  Wed eve Madam Butterfly;  Thu Manon;  Fri The Valkyrie;  Sat  mat La Bohème;  Sat eve Aïda.  Most of these works had been performed in Dundee regularly before - only Manon and The Valkyrie were local premieres.  The five earlier weeks showed a similar degree of variety.

Eugene Goossens II was a familiar figure from thirty years conducting the Carl Rosa company on and off.  Aylmer Buesst and Leslie Heward were both highly regarded between the wars.  Young John Barbirolli went on to have the most exceptional career of the lot.  Of the singers, Robert Radford, Norman Allin, Walter Hyde, Parry Jones and Heddle Nash all had important careers.  So also did Gladys Parr, Constance Willis. Noël Eadie, Dennis Noble and Percy Heming.

The complete Mastersingers cast is taken from a copy of the Dundee programme for 31 October.  The 7 October issue of the Scotsman reviews the Glasgow evening and specifies that Barbirolli was in charge.

 

A Press Report in Dundee

The Dundee Courier & Advertiser of Tuesday, November 1 1927  (p4) gave its enthusiastic view:

'Wagner's The Mastersingers was chosen by the British National Opera Company for their first appearance in Dundee last night.  It is one of the shining glories of music, and its performance was such as to give us a splendid idea of the famous company's quality and capabilities.  The house was what would normally be called a good one, but there really should not be a single empty seat for such an attraction.  The Mastersingers is probably the greatest of all comic operas.  Certainly, it is the one most saturated in geniality, though it has not the airy grace and sparkle of Don Giovanni or Figaro, the only other two operas worthy, as pieces of comedy, of comparison with it.

'Wagner is said to have written The Mastersingers as a reply (and what a reply!) to those critics who peevishly complained that he was incapable of writing melody.  It is also said that the opera is bound up in the affairs of the composer himself, and is to be regarded as his protest against the prejudices and narrow-mindedness which he had to put up with during much of his lifetime.  Walter von Stolzing, we are told, is but the mirror held up to Richard Wagner.  Sachs represents conservative but open-minded public opinion.  And the bigot Beckmesser, being the villain of the piece, is naturally symbolic of the critics.  But even he is not allowed to disturb the good humour of the work as a whole.  He arouses laughter rather than resentment, which shows that Wagner knew what he was doing, for to hold a character up to ridicule lessens the chance of his becoming an object of sympathy.

'But whatever view you take of the opera, allegory or no allegory, you could hardly fail to be entranced by the beauty of it all.  The rich pageantry of the stage pictures is reflected even more glowingly in the music itself.  The three themes so cunningly woven together into the rich texture of the overture give us in little the main aspects of the work.  Its breadth and richness are heard in the music of the Mastersingers; its humour and gaiety in the part theme of the Apprentices; and the essence of its lyrical fervour is in those ravishing snatches of the love music.

'The orchestration, though not quite so important in The Mastersingers as in the Ring cycle, where the operas are really symphonic poems and the voices part of the orchestra, is of great loveliness and teems with delicate underlinings and subtle witticisms bearing on the stage action.  Mr Aylmer Buesst knows his score inside out and directed the lovely stream of sound with infinite tenderness and insight.  He moulded his phrases with an unfailing eye to line and accent, and altogether gave us an accompaniment that for elasticity and sensitiveness would have been hard to equal.  His overture was firmly knit, well-balanced and dignified.  The prelude to Act III, where the strings, in particular, shone, was made by fine phrasing into the lovely thing it is.  His orchestra is a fine one and must have given as much pleasure to many as anything during the evening.

'The cast was a splendid one and did some valiant work.  Mr Andrew Shanks was the Sachs, for whom some of the finest music in the opera is written.  Sachs is Wagner's most human creation, and is not far off being his completest.  Mr Shanks gave us all of the cobbler's nobility, to the exclusion, perhaps, of a little of his humanity.  It was a fine study, nevertheless, and the music was sung with emphatic distinction.  The voice is mellow and easily produced, and was nowhere better heard than in the Monologue, the restrained emotion and changes of mood being splendidly expressed.  Equally good was his singing of the long air in the second act, with its weighty climax and contrasting cadence from the orchestra.  The Panegyric also was a broad and sonorous piece of work.

'Mr Herbert Langley's Beckmesser was a very complete characterisation.  Not a point was missed and hardly one overstressed.  His singing of the Serenade, with its studied banality and misplaced accents, and the outrageous parody of the words of the Prize Song, were rich pieces of comedy, besides being impressive vocally.  Mr Langley has a voice of wide range and fine quality. 

'The Walter of Mr Parry Jones may have been a trifle stilted.  A little more vitality and an occasional variety of gesture would have brought his acting nearer to the level of his singing.  He has a beautiful tenor of even quality, with power and clarity in its high notes.  His singing of "Am Stillen Herd" gave us the song's essential simplicity and grace, and the love music was finely phrased and properly passionate.  But surely it was rather rude of him to turn his back on his judges and sing the Prize Song to the audience?  Not that we minded, for he sang it beautifully.

'Mr Robert Radford was dignified and stately as Pogner, and showed us in his singing of the Address that his voice is still a superb one.  Mr Heddle Nash was a bright and attractive David.  He used his light, pure tenor nowhere so delightfully as in that little ditty about St John on Jordan's Strand.  The Eva of Miss Rachel Morton was pitched throughout in the same ecstatic key, which detracted from the effect of her climaxes.  Her flexible voice is of beautiful quality, and she sang her duets with Walter very charmingly.  The Magdalene of Miss Constance Willis lacked nothing of humour and forthrightness.  The part did not display her fine voice to its full advantage.

'The best work of the evening was undoubtedly in the first scene of Act III, which contains the Monologue, the first appearance of the Prize Song, and the glorious Quintette.  The chorus sang magnificently in the last act, which is their only real chance in the opera.'

 

A Second Opinion

The Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post of Tuesday, November 1 1927  ( p3) also expressed a view 

'Only a week or two ago Dundee discovered Bernard Shaw - at least the city having for the first time (thanks to its latitude) a chance of seeing a set of Shaw plays - appeared from the subsequent talk to find him very fascinating.  This week, Dundee, having a unique opportunity of seeing grand opera performed in the grand manner, may well have a new view of what grand opera really is.  From the enthusiastic reception given to The Mastersingers in the King's Theatre last night by the BNOC, evidence was manifest that a superb performance does not go without a high appreciation.

'We think of Wagner as a musician, but he was a philosopher too, and, unlike that philosopher whom Dr Johnson knew, cheerfulness did not always keep breaking in.  But it broke in once in The Mastersingers, and having burst in, it spread itself generously in a work that will go down to the ages as one of the most perfectly joyous and resplendent musical works of the 19th century.

'Every schoolboy knows that Wagner thought poetry and music should be of equal importance in music drama, but it must be confessed that the libretto takes second place. Whether this story of the Mastersingers, with their pomposity and puffiness, this satire on pedantry, this pretty idyllic tale of lovers, this record of a song festival, would make a good acting drama may well be doubted; but when Wagner poured over the tale the molten gold of his melodic muse and clad the verses with a music so sunny, so genial, warm hearted and opulent in romantic feeling, he gave the world a shining treasure.

'The opera has its high lights - the overture, the monologue of Hans Sachs, the introduction to the third act, the song written by the actual historical Sachs, the prize song, and that loveliest of gems, the quintette in act three; but while, apart from these, the general level of dramatic interest is high, there are prolix passages when the stage action palls.  So here's for a heresy!  When the vocal score dulls a bit, the listener can switch his attention off to the orchestra, and he will find a marvellous score full of rich melody, weaving and inter-weaving into a gorgeous tapestried web of rich colour and perfect texture.  Here is an underflow of purest beauty, a graceful symphony in itself, and yet ever illustrative of the action on the stage.  Now by a leit motive or a Handelian parody it points a character or situation, now by a bit of realism it accentuates Beckmesser's creaking bones and joints, and now it just sings a love song that could only come from a heart that was ever young.  Comic operas have been funnier and tragic operas have been more intense, but never was there an opera more radiant of warm romantic feeling and glowing sunny joys.

'The honours were shared by all, but the first place must go to the orchestra.  Let it not be said that the orchestra was too loud, for the wonder was that the conductor, Mr Aylmer Buesst, kept the fifty members so well under a complex score.  The theatre is a small one, and that may throw the balance between singers and orchestra a little bit out, but there was no swamping.  All through Mr Buesst got a wonderfully supple rhythm.  When it is remembered how much of the vitality of a reading depends on a conductor's sense for rhythm, rubato, and even more for a correct speed (which will vary from theatre to theatre), our admiration for Mr Buesst's work is unstinted.  He welded singers and orchestra into a unified whole, and, by a nervous, often twitching rhythm, and a great elasticity of tone, volume and tempo obtained one of the finest performances of Mastersingers we have ever heard.

'The chorus singing was singularly pure and sweet.  No attempt was made to obtain volume for volume's sake, but the part singing was always excellent.  Somehow the dance of the apprentices was hardly as piquant as we have seen and heard it.  But the gem of the evening was the quintette sung by Misses Rachel Morton, Constance Willis, and Messrs Shanks, Jones, and Nash.  It was perfect in pure tone, in balance and in feeling.  No wonder the audience tried to break all rules and wildly express its appreciation.

'The hero of the opera is Sachs, the cobbler poet.  Mr Andrew Shanks gave a reading that was just a trifle severe in manner but full of a calm contemplative spirit befitting the noble character of Sachs.  Vocally he was uncommonly fine.  "The elder's scent" monologue was firm and tender and the "Craze" number had just a delicate touch of passion. Mr Shanks's voice is a splendid one and he always seemed to have something in reserve.

'As a sheer character study, Mr Herbert Langley's Beckmesser was rare comedy. This part was really meant to scarify Hanslick, one of Wagner's sternest and ablest critics, but, apart from that, it is a pure satire on pedagogic pedantry.  Mr Langley's clean enunciation, his exquisite pantomime and his half sardonic, wholly disagreeable and disgruntled aspirant for Eva's hand was a masterpiece of fine singing and acting.

'Mr Parry Jones was a statuesque Walther. His tenor voice is a good one and, even if he whips a phrase at times, he always sings with intelligence and often with lyric beauty.   He spoilt the early part of the Prize Song by getting out of time with the band, but in the duets with Eva he infused a wooing sympathy into his singing.  Mr Heddle Nash as David gave a perfect little study of the part.

'The part of Magdalene is a small one, but Miss Constance Willis presented it as a finished picture.  She has a jolly style, her voice is a beautiful one, and her diction is a model. As Eva, Miss Rachel Morton never failed to give pleasure.  She has a lovely voice and can sing a love passage in an entrancing way, and her share in the quintette was perfect in sweetness and pure tone.  Mr Robert Radford as Pogner used his magnificent bass voice with fine resonance and rich volume.  He had a rare sense of dignity in singing and bearing. Even the smallest of the other parts was in safe hands.

'There was a great reception for all concerned at the close of the performance.  And so to bed with the memory of a superb performance of a great opera, and a head full of lovely and haunting melody.'

 

BNOC in Scotland - 1927

The 1927 Scottish tour included six weeks, two each in Glasgow (Theatre Royal) and Edinburgh (King's), and a further week each in Aberdeen (His Majesty's) and Dundee (King's) - the first time that BNOC went north of the central belt.

Fifteen operas were performed:

Mozart (Marriage of Figaro,  Magic Flute);  Rossini (Barber of Seville);  Wagner (TannhäuserMastersingersValkyrieTwilight of the Gods);   Verdi  (Aïda);   Bizet (Carmen);  Saint-Saëns (Samson and Delilah);  Massenet (Manon);   Leoncavallo  (Pagliacci);   Puccini  (Bohème,  Madam ButterflyGianni Schicchi).

The schedule was as follows:

Glasgow, w/c 26 September:  Mon 26  Barber of Seville;  Tue 27  Magic Flute;  Wed 28 mat  Bohème;  Wed 28 eve  Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci:  Thu 29  Valkyrie;  Fri 30  Marriage of Figaro  Sat 01 mat  Madam Butterfly;  Sat 01 eve  Aïda.

Glasgow, w/c 03 October:  Mon 03  Carmen;  Tue 04  Manon;  Wed 05 mat  Marriage of Figaro;  Wed 05 eve  Barber of Seville;  Thu 06  Mastersingers;  Fri 07  Samson and Delilah;  Sat 08 mat  Magic Flute;  Sat 08 eve  Tannhäuser.

Edinburgh, w/c 10 October: Mon 10  Barber of Seville; Tue 11  Mastersingers;  Wed 12 mat  Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci;  Wed 12 eve  Magic Flute;  Thu 13  Manon;  Fri 14  Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 15 mat  Bohème;  Sat 15 eve  Samson and Delilah.

Edinburgh, w/c  17 October:  Mon 17  Barber of Seville;  Tue 18  Twilight of the Gods;  Wed 19 mat Madam Butterfly;  Wed 19 eve  Tannhäuser;  Thu 20  Carmen;  Fri 21  Manon;  Sat 22 mat  Magic Flute;  Sat 22 eve  Aïda.

Aberdeen, w/c 24 October:  Mon 24  Barber of Seville;  Tue 25  Twilight of the Gods;  Wed 26 mat  Magic Flute;  Wed 26 eve Manon;  Thu 27 Mastersingers;  Fri 28  Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 29 mat  Madam Butterfly;  Sat 29 eve Aïda.

Dundee, w/c 31 October: Mon 31  Mastersingers;  Tue 01 Nov  Barber of Seville;  Wed 02 mat  Marriage of Figaro;  Wed 02 eve  Madam Butterfly;  Thu 03  Manon;  Fri 04  Valkyrie;  Sat 05 mat  Bohème;  Sat 05 eve  Aïda.

 

Dundee Ticket Prices:

Reserved:           Orch Stalls   8/6          Stalls   7/6        Dress Circle      5/9;          8/6;         10/-.

Unreserved:        Pit   3/-           Gallery    2/-.

Performance Cast

Walther von Stolzing a young knight

Parry Jones (Oct 31)

Eva daughter of Pogner

Rachel Morton (Oct 31)

Magdalene Eva's nurse

Constance Willis (Oct 31)

David apprentice to Sachs

Heddle Nash (Oct 31)

Hans Sachs a shoemaker

Andrew Shanks (Oct 31)

Veit Pogner a goldsmith

Robert Radford (Oct 31)

Sixtus Beckmesser town clerk

Herbert Langley (Oct 31)

Fritz Kothner a baker

Bernard Ross (Oct 31)

Konrad Nachtigall a tinsmith

Ralph Humble (Oct 31)

Balthasar Zorn a pewterer

Frank Aikens (Oct 31)

Ulrich Eisslinger a grocer

Martin Quinn (Oct 31)

Kunz Vogelgesang a furrier

Percy Harris (Oct 31)

Augustin Moser a tailor

Liddell Peddieson (Oct 31)

Hans Foltz a coppersmith

Thomas Hindmarch (Oct 31)

Hermann Ortel a soap-boiler

Leslie Horsman (Oct 31)

Hans Schwarz a stocking-weaver

Frank Le Pla (Oct 31)

Nightwatchman

Philip Bertram (Oct 31)

Performance DatesMastersingers of Nuremberg 1927

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

6 Oct, 18.30

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

11 Oct, 18.30

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

27 Oct, 18.30

King's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

31 Oct, 18.30

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