Opera Scotland

Manon 1927British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Manon

Manon was in danger of dropping from the repertoire when this successful new production was mounted, largely at the behest of Sir Thomas Beecham. Des Grieux became one of Heddle Nash's best roles, and he and Dennis Noble recorded it for a BBC broadcast a decade later (by which time the baritone was singing the bigger role of Lescaut).

The casts are taken from the Scotsman review for 13 October, as well as a programme for 21 October in Edinburgh City Library.  The Dundee cast is from a copy of the programme for 3 November.

 

Edinburgh Opinion

The Scotsman of Friday, 14 October (p8) said:

'Considering its charm,  the music of Massenet is rather strangely neglected in this country, where he is chiefly represented by occasional appearances of his Scènes Pittoresques in the programmes of orchestral concerts.  His operas have made but little impression here, popular as they are elsewhere.  It was an excellent idea on the part of the directors of the British National Opera Company, therefore, to revive Manon as an example of the work of a composer who has been unduly neglected,  and last night's performance of the opera drew a large and interested audience to the King's Theatre. 

'There are various settings of Manon Lescaut in existence, but it is doubtful whether the Abbé Prevost's story really makes a good subject for an opera.  There are some fine emotional climaxes, and the Manon libretti rely for the most part upon these for their success.    It is in these that Massenet shows to thebest advantage.  Manon's remorse at her contemplated desertion of Des Grieux;  her meeting with him in the Seminary, the gaming house scene, and her death by the roadside, all supplied Massenet with material of which his musical temperament fitted him to make admirable use.

'The interest, however, is not maintained in the intervening portions,  and the music here has rather the suggestion of having been written as appropriate to a type of situation,  rather than being the direct outcome of a type of situation.  Even where he is most conventional, however, Massenet is always graceful.

'The opera was given last night with an excellent cast.  Miss Marguerite Anderson,  a new-comer with a delightful voice,  after a little uncertainty in the opening scene,  had a great success as the unstable Manon, fickle, mercenary, and tender by turns.  Mr Heddle Nash imparted a genuinely romantic feeling to his impersonation of the Chevalier,  and Mr Percy Heming gave real vitality to his impersonation of Lescaut, worthless, but at the last with a redeeming touch to his baseness.  The De Mortfontaine of Mr Sydney Russell was a fine study of the vindictive roué,  Mr Philip Bertram was a distinguished Comte des Grieux,  and Mr Dennis Noble was good as De Bretigny.  The three actresses were cleverly impersonated by Misses Doris Lemon,  Frances Frost,  and Marjorie Parry.  Under the direction of Mr Eugene Goossens snr,  the opera was given with an enjoyable sense of the beauty of its vocal and instrumental texture.

'As a whole, the opera is very chacteristic Massenet - light, brilliant, and with a facile emotionalism which, at some points, however,  does contrive to ring true.  The work had a very cordial reception,  and its repetition next week will no doubt be welcomed by many as an opportunity for verifying or correcting last night's impressions.

'The opera was very tastefully staged, and with the delicate colourings of the various scenes conveyed an effective impression of the period as it is reflected in contemporary French colour prints.' 

 

And Dundee

The Dundee Courier & Advertiser on Friday, November 4 1927 (p6) gave its view of the Dundee premiere:

Opera Season at the King’s - Massenet's “Manon”

'Quite a few composers have, from time to time, tried their hand at setting L' Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut to music.  Balfe, Auber, Puccini, and Massenet all had a go at it, but the younger Frenchman's opera was the only one to achieve any sort of permanency.  Our tenors occasionally give us an isolated excerpt from the Puccini work, but the dust lies thick on its full score.  As for the others, they are as dead as mutton.

'Not so Massenet's version.  This has remained an obstinate success in its own country ever since its first performance, and is a stock item in the repertoire of every cosmopolitan opera house.  The occasion for such popularity is not far to seek.  Massenet was a very competent craftsman.  None was better versed than he in the art of turning out a shapely air, conforming strictly to the traditions of his school with just a dash of essence of  Massenet (for he does show us a turn of phrase peculiar to himself now and then) to add piquancy to what would otherwise be rather tasteless.  His copious melody is pretty enough, and in Manon the composer betrays at moments a sense of the vigorous that is lacking in, say, his appallingly dull Thaïs.

'Another important factor in Manon's make-up is the unerring eye for a dramatic situation, and a thorough knowledge of what is known as “good theatre”.  Add to this the circumstance of it being an eighteenth century play, with unlimited opportunities for colourful stage pictures, and you have a few reasons for the opera's continued life.

'Miss Marguerite Anderson, as Manon, had a trying part, and she acquitted herself on the whole very well indeed.  She managed particularly in the second act, to suggest the contrary impulses beneath the simple exterior, and achieved very real pathos in her singing of “Adieu, notre petite table.”  Her voice is a fine soprano, with a good deal of power in its higher register, but she does not yet have full control of her tone.  She has an appealing presence and bears herself easily.  If, as has been said, she is practically a beginner, then she shows exceptional promise besides considerable accomplishment.

'Mr Heddle Nash was as easy and graceful as ever in the part of the Chevalier des Grieux.  He makes a charming lover, and can throw off a passionate declaration with all the grace in the world.  If only his voice had more body in it he would be a very exceptional operatic tenor.  His high notes in “Ah, fuyez douce image,” were not sufficiently commanding to carry across the full strength of the orchestra, but his singing of the “Dream” air in Act II deserves unstinted praise.  As an example of beautiful mezza-voce and long phrasing it was the best thing of the evening.

'The other parts were all well filled.  Percy Heming was a bluff and sturdy Lescaut, and used his fine baritone to good effect.  Dennis Noble was wasted as de Brétigny, but he did everything possible with the part.  Sydney Russell did not seem at ease vocally with the part of de Morfontaine.  His acting was always adequate, however.  Philip Bertram was a sombre Comte des Grieux.  His voice is of fine quality.  Doris Lemon, Frances Frost, and Marjory Parry as the actresses gave us some bright concerted singing.  The dancing of the ballet, too, must be mentioned.  It was deservedly popular.

'Mr Eugene Goossens, sen., conducted with nervous energy and general sensitiveness, but the score was not one to let us see him as the fine conductor he is.

'Those who had the pleasure of hearing Miss Noel Eadie's brilliant Rosina on Tuesday will be interested to hear that she is to sing Mimì on Saturday afternoon in place of Miss Rhys Parker, who is ill.'

 

A Second Dundee Opinion

Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post: Friday, November 4 1927  (p4)       

British National Opera Company - Massenet's "Manon" at the King's Theatre

'The Abbé Prévost's great novel Manon Lescaut has been a favourite with more than one composer.  Auber set it to music and so did Halévy.  Puccini in our own time has his Manon, and Massenet, whose music more than any other musician's was peculiarly adapted to the treatment of the emotional story, wrote the most popular musical setting of the tale.  It is in the repertory of every French operatic troupe, large and small, and vies with Carmen in popularity from the Channel to the Mediterranean.

'As arranged for Massenet's music, the story becomes a chain of incidents loosely linked together rather than a strong dramatic tale; but each act and scene has its theme and its strong, fervid and passionate climax. Operas have had better librettos, and Manon in Massenet's setting will live by its music.  This music of Massenet is unmistakably French.  It has a touch of the dryness in some places that marks much French music, but as a whole it is intoxicating with its seductive and even swooning melodies, its strong sensual flavour, and its honeyed sweetness.  Massenet, in Manon and in other operas, is the singer of beautiful sinners (female ones of course), and he succeeds to a nicety in representing their sad but sentimental failings (and fallings) with a sympathetic pen.

'Seductive, voluptuous, caressing, his music is built in long phrases, clogged with endless passion and burning with the fever of at least one sort of love.  It is in a sense woman's music, revealing the tempestuous fevers that are ardent in the hearts of the Manons, those gay, fickle, pleasure-loving, and attractive doves that have their place in the history of every age and on every stage.  It is a music that seldom impinges on the spiritual.

'How well Massenet knew his job!  He contrived an operatic sweep which could thrill, he knew the trick of securing an effect théâtral by prolonging a high note or introducing a ritournelle, and he could write a suave melody that was so perfectly smooth in control that it would seem to sing itself.  One fancies he must have been a very facile writer from the sweetness of his music, and that sweetness is so prevalent in his operas that, at points one longs for the wryness of a few healthy and shattering discords.  But, before all things, his music is singable and grateful both to vocalist and listener - a worthy thing in these days when noises are music.

'The performance of the opera by the BNOC last night was on a high level, and had many points of excellence and of brilliance.  In the title role Miss Marguerite Anderson caught the attention from the first.  She was hardly the "Cleopatra in paniers" that the original Manon was, and indeed could have safely been more dramatic in places, but her reading of the part had youthful charm and grace.  Her voice had freshness and purity, with good power, and her winsome presence made its own appeal.  In passionate places - and Massenet provides these liberally - her rich tones rang out well, and her whole reading was marked by high qualities of artistic care, except her faint deficiencies in perfect pitch.

'Mr Heddle Nash, as Des Grieux, gave his best performance of the week. The luscious strains suited his voice, and he sang with easy abandon in dramatic moments. Whether he was the infatuated lover or the repentant novice, he never lacked the necessary note of sympathy in voice and bearing.  The opera abounds in vocal sweeps, and he knows the art of taking these with ease and with a tear in his voice.  He and Miss Anderson sang the love duet with power and full expression, and his "Dream" number was a beauty.

'That splendid artist, Mr Percy Heming, was Lescaut, and both vocally and dramatically delivered the part on robust and swaggering lines with a touch of pomposity that suited its needs.  Mr Dennis Noble as De Brétigny used his baritone voice to good effect. Other parts, the chorus, band, and ballet worked harmoniously under the guidance of the conductor, Mr Eugene Goossens, sen.

'To-night Wagner's Valkyrie will be given for the first time in Dundee and with the finest cast of the week.  It will interest many to know that Miss Noel Eadie, who scored such a success in The Barber of Seville on Tuesday, will play Mimì in Puccini's La Bohème on Saturday afternoon.  Miss Eadie is an old St Leonard's girl at St Andrews, and is one of the few vocalists engaged to sing at the University concerts at St Andrews during the winter.'

 

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 (Tannhäuser,  Mastersingers,  Valkyrie,  Twilight of the Gods);   Verdi  (Aïda);   Bizet (Carmen);  Saint-Saëns (Samson and Delilah);  Massenet (Manon);   Leoncavallo  (Pagliacci);   Puccini  (Bohème,  Madam Butterfly,  Gianni 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.

Performance Cast

Guillot de Morfontaine Finance Minister

Sydney Russell (Oct 13, 21; Nov 3)

De Br├ętigny a nobleman

Dennis Noble (Oct 13; Nov 3)

Ralph Humble (Oct 21)

Poussette an actress

Doris Lemon (Oct 21; Nov 3)

Javotte an actress

Marjorie Parry (Oct 21; Nov 3)

Rosette an actress

Frances Frost (Oct 21; Nov 3)

Innkeeper

Bernard Ross (Oct 21; Nov 3)

Lescaut a Guards officer, Manon's cousin

Herbert Langley (Oct 21)

Percy Heming (Nov 3)

Manon Manon Lescaut

Marguerite Anderson (Oct 13, 21; Nov 3)

Chevalier des Grieux

Heddle Nash (Oct 13, 21; Nov 3)

Comte des Grieux the Chevalier's father

Philip Bertram (Oct 13, 21; Nov 3)

Maid

Jessie Mitchell (Oct 21; Nov 3)

Performance DatesManon 1927

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

4 Oct, 19.15

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

13 Oct, 19.15 21 Oct, 19.15

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

26 Oct, 19.15

King's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

3 Nov, 19.15

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