Opera Scotland


William Tell in Scotland

Posted 24 Aug 2014

The first performance in Scotland of Rossini's final opera, William Tell, was given in Edinburgh at the Theatre Royal on 25 February 1856. The work was given as part of a season created by the Scottish promoter George Wood, who was trying to build an audience for opera in Scotland.  Wood's season - his third - lasted three months, yet Tell was given only once in Edinburgh and then once in Glasgow.

Of that first performance the Scotsman (27 Feb 1856) said 'there are no striking situations to rivet the attention, with the exception of the scene where Tell has to shoot the apple placed on the head of his son...'  The Caledonian Mercury argued "In fact, the music is more descriptive and expressive than the language...perhaps Rossini is, in this instance, no worse off than other great musicians are and have been."  The notice continued "the curtain fell amidst unmistakeable expressions of dissatisfaction, and loud calls for Mr Wood. As is usual on the Continent and also in London, the last act was somewhat shortened, and ended with the chorus of Swiss incited by Arnoldo to release Tell and free themselves". It seems Wood was unable to persuade the audience they had not been deprived of music.

Rossini thought William Tell his greatest work, and its critical reception resulted in him ceasing to compose. The rarity of performance has been attributed to the unwieldy libretto, the length of the opera - four hours uncut - and the difficulty of casting the tenor role of Arnold.

Performances in Scotland have been rare indeed.  It was given by Glasgow Grand Opera in 1964, in a performance remembered for the fact that Arnold was sung by John Robertson early in his distinguished career.

Haddo House gave performances in 1992 and earlier too; we plan in due course to have these listed on the OperaScotland website.

Our image is of Rossini himself.


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