Opera Scotland

Faust 1956Carl Rosa Opera Company

Read more about the opera Faust

The Faust cast for this season was almost identical to that in the previous year, with the sole difference being the arrival of a new baritone, John Heddle Nash.  He was a son of the famous tenor Heddle Nash, who was himself still singing occasionally.  The son was a good actor, though his voice was light, and after his move to Sadler's Wells he became one of their most accomplished operetta specialists, with effortlessly clear diction.

There were indications that the company management was attempting to introduce some new features in the staging - the sets were slightly modernised, and the edition used was essentially a return to the original score, so Valentin's aria 'Even bravest heart', composed years later for Charles Santley, was among the items cut.

It was noted in the press that Arthur Hammond was conducting from memory. This is not something that could have been risked in the days when only the orchestral principals toured to train and augment the local musicians. When this itinerary included several venues like the Dundee Gaumont, with no regular band, the 40 players in the pit must have been travelling on the whole tour.

 

Press Comment

A short review can be found in the Glasgow Herald (15 May).

"In a capable cast Estelle Valery made a sympathetic Marguerite.  On the male side Stanislav Pieczora, who cut a sardonically impressive figure as Mephistopheles, shared the vocal honours with Charles Craig's Faust and John Heddle Nash's Valentine. 

The production had virtues not always apparent last week.  One could more often than not hear what it was all about, while the restrained orchestral playing which made that possible in itself more nearly realised the potential undoubtedly possessed.  Arthur Hammond conducted."

 

The Dundee press took up rather more space:

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Tuesday, October 23, 1956

The Carl Rosa merited their warm welcome back

'The Carl Rosa Opera Company, who left happy memories of fine performances in Dundee last year, have returned to the Gaumont Theatre with a cast of singers (many the same) well equipped to make the present series equally successful.

'There was a full house last night for the opening with Faust and the rapturous applause at intervals and final curtain were certainly deserved.  New settings - some with a touch of futurist art - were a point of interest. The original version was followed - so strong is the Carl Rosa's desire for artistic veracity that they omit the Valentine aria “Even bravest heart”, because it wasn't in the original score.

'Faust has plenty of luscious melodies without that one, and even if there is sometimes an overdose of saccharine, it is forgiven for Gounod's inspired outpourings.   The presentation shaded satisfactorily from healthy vocal robustness to sweetly-calculated tenderness of expression.  Occasionally the theatre reverberated with the orchestral volume produced by the company's 40 instrumentalists and the chorus, but I thought that on the whole, the conductor, Arthur Hammond (directing entirely from memory I noticed) achieved a remarkably well-balanced performance.  His orchestral effects were highly enjoyable.  This was particularly so in the Garden Scene, in which the flood of favourite melodies in arias and love duets had beautifully lyrical treatment from the principals and in the orchestra pit.

'The Marguerite, Estelle Valery, and the Faust, Charles Craig, were in excellent form. The soprano had a splendidly firm voice, full-bodied and agile in technique.  I thought her prison scene was first-class in tone quality and acting ability.  The tenor showed a satisfying alternation of the robusto and lyrical styles - and a lovely voice.  The famed cavatina “All hail thou dwelling” was an example of his skill.

'The Polish bass Stanislav Pieczora was again an altogether unusual Méphistophélès.  Over six feet tall and wearing a make-up of saturnine otherworldliness, he matched his physical appearance with a voice of rarest depth and resonance.  One was grateful for his refusal to overact, allowing the full savour of his singing to be enjoyed.  His sardonic laugh (in three octaves) at the end of the Serenade was a masterpiece.

'John Heddle Nash, a baritone with ability to pour out musical tone at a high pitch of intensity, made a grand job of Valentine's death scene.  Mona Ross used a fine voice well as Siebel, and Julia Bouttell was an engaging Martha; Ernest Thomas was effective as Wagner.'

 

Dundee Evening Telegraph: Tuesday, October 23, 1956

The Carl Rosa's Inspired Faust

'Paying a welcome return visit to the city, the Carl Rosa Company started their week's stay in the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee, in grand style last night, with a really fine performance of Gounod's much loved opera Faust.  This is surely a work whose musical charms “time cannot wither, nor custom stale.”  Last night's standard of singing and acting plus the many subtle staging and pictorial effects, drew a tremendous ovation from a capacity audience.

'In the title role Charles Craig made a very good transition from the enfeebled Faust of Act l, to the ardent lover of the later scenes.  His voice was most moving in its sweetness of tone, but also extremely powerful when the music required such quality of him.  His diction was at all times impeccable, and our gratitude is due to him for a most workmanlike presentation of the part.  Miss Estelle Valery, as Marguerite, was also well cast.  Her voice is perhaps not so well produced as Mr Craig's but she has all the range and flexibility of voice that the role demands.  She built up the character of Marguerite, from the demure girl of the early scenes to the distraught woman of the finale, with real conviction and gave us some really beautiful singing, particularly in her prayer in the church.

'For sheer beauty of tone Mr Stanislav Pieczora possibly stole last night's vocal honours.  We have seen much more dominating Mephistopheles however, and many who could extract even a sort of spine-tingling humour from the part.  Mr Pieczora may have proved a rather serious devil, but at the same time he achieved some wonderfully dramatic effects by his tremendous vocal personality, real musical technique and the insight to control both these factors.  Even since his last visit to Dundee, John Heddle Nash has matured considerably as a singer and actor.  His portrayal of Valentine, Marguerite's brother, was a beautifully balanced piece of work.  He achieved successfully that most difficult of operatic effects, a “natural” death.

'Mona Ross as Siebel sang beautifully and caught all the heart-moving awkwardness of young love in her interpretation.  Why, however, did the librettist change the words of “When all was young” and “Gentle flowers in the dew”?  To the ears of a conservative opera-goer it sounded like sacrilege!  Well cast in smaller roles were Ernest Thomas as Wagner and Julia Bouttell as a very roguish Martha.

'The standard of chorus singing was high, and the orchestra under the brilliant direction of Arthur Hammond really inspired as well as supported both soloists and chorus.  As on his previous visit, the producer showed great skill in his presentation of the finale.  A Botticelli-like background, beautifully lit from behind, and with the celestial choir singing off-stage, proved a most memorable ending to a very moving performance.'

 

The Carl Rosa UK Touring Itinerary - 1956

The gruelling nature of the touring life led by the Carl Rosa Opera is quite alarming, involving lengthy journeys by train to visit a long list of theatres, usually for one week, occasionally for two.

In 1956, the itinerary began with the week commencing 30 January at the Essoldo, Brighton.  There followed the Gaumont, Worcester (2 Feb);  New, Hull (13 Feb);  Essoldo, Stretford (20 Feb);  De Montfort Hall, Leicester (27 Feb);  Theatre Royal, Norwich (5 Mar);  Gaumont, Preston (12 Mar);  Opera House, Belfast (19 & 26 Mar);  Lyceum, Sheffield (2 & 9 Apr);  Grand, Wolverhampton (16 Apr);  Grand, Leeds (23 & 30 Apr);  Theatre Royal, Glasgow (7 & 14 May);  Royal Hall, Harrogate (21 May);  Coliseum, Barrow-in-Furness (28 May);  Theatre Royal, Newcastle (4 & 11 Jun);  Sadler's Wells, London (17 & 24 Jun) and Opera House, Manchester (1 & 8 Jul).

After a few weeks summer break, business resumed at the Gaumont, Ipswich (27 Aug);  Empire, Chiswick (3 Sep);  Odeon, Southend-on-Sea (10 Sep);  Gaumont, Southampton (17 Sep);  Hippodrome, Bristol (24 Sep & 1 Oct);  Opera House, Cheltenham (8 Oct);  Gaumont, Doncaster (15 Oct);  Gaumont, Dundee (22 Oct);  Alhambra, Bradford (29 Oct & 5 Nov);  Theatre Royal, Nottingham (12 & 19 Nov) and Theatre Royal, Hanley (26 Nov).

There are only two Scottish venues, Glasgow and Dundee this time.  However Edinburgh and Aberdeen featured in the itinerary of a touring Italian company.  Also, it was simply not possible to visit every venue each year - Liverpool and Birmingham do not feature in this list either.

 

The Carl Rosa Opera Company in Scotland - 1956

Unusually, the tour elements were split many months apart, with Glasgow in May and Dundee October.

The eleven operas toured during the season were by Mozart (Don Giovanni);  Rossini (Barber of Seville); Wagner (Tannhäuser);  Verdi (Rigoletto,  Trovatore);  Gounod (Faust);  Offenbach (Tales of Hoffmann);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);  Puccini (Manon Lescaut,  Bohème);  Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana).

A comparison with the previous 1955 touring repertoire shows that in order to add the rare Manon Lescaut the far more popular Carmen was dropped.  It is noticeable that Tannhäuser is not taken to Dundee in either year, though it was played there often enough in the early decades of the century.

The full Scottish tour schedule was:

Glasgow, w/c 7 May:  Mon 7 Cav & Pag;  Tue 8 Don Giovanni;  Wed 9 Tales of Hoffmann;  Thu 10 Manon Lescaut;  Fri 11 Barber of Seville;  Sat 12 mat Don Giovanni;  Sat 12 eve Rigoletto.

Glasgow, w/c 14 May;  Mon 14 Faust;  Tue 15 Tannhäuser;  Wed 16 Bohème;  Thu 17 Barber of Seville;  Fri 18 Manon Lescaut;  Sat 19 mat Cav & Pag;  Sat 19 eve Trovatore.

Dundee, w/c 22 October:  Mon 22 Faust;  Tue 23  Barber of Seville;  Wed 24 Cav & Pag;  Thu 25 Don Giovanni;  Fri 26 Manon Lescaut;  Sat 27 mat Bohème;  Sat 27 eve Tales of Hoffmann

Cast details for Glasgow are as reviewed.   For Dundee, they are from a programme in the OperaScotland collection.

Performance Cast

Faust a learned doctor

Charles Craig (May 14; Oct 22)

Méphistophélès the devil

Stanislav Pieczora (May 14; Oct 22)

Valentin Marguerite's brother

John Heddle Nash (May 14; Oct 22)

Wagner a student of Dr Faust

Ernest Thomas (Oct 22)

Marguerite

Estelle Valery (May 14; Oct 22)

Siébel a student of Dr Faust, in love with Marguerite

Mona Ross (Oct 22)

Marthe a neighbour

Julia Bouttell (Oct 22)

Performance DatesFaust 1956

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

14 May, 19.15

Gaumont Theatre | Dundee

22 Oct, 19.00

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