Opera Scotland


Magic Flute in Scotland

Posted 14 May 2019

The Magic Flute was first performed in Scotland on 4 March 1864. This was at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, located in Shakespeare Square, at the top of Leith Walk.

The performers were Colonel Mapleson’s Italian Opera on one of its regular tours from London. As this company performed everything in Italian, this was Il flauto magico, with an international cast of generally reputable singers. The conductor was Luigi Arditi, also a well-known composer of songs. The cast included a great British baritone, Sir Charles Santley, as Papageno and a leading German, now British-domiciled dramatic soprano, Therese Tietjens as Pamina. One ‘Signor Foli’, actually an excellent Irish bass, Allan James Foley, was the Sarastro.

To modern eyes, other aspects of the performance were less appealing – there were many cuts to reduce its length, and the Queen’s music was transposed down.

When the company returned in 1873, the fine Croatian dramatic soprano Ilma Di Murska gave a far better interpretation of that notoriously difficult part at the correct pitch, with Clarice Sinico, previously Papagena, now promoted to Pamina. In 1874 another famous British-based soprano, Marie Roze, took over Pamina. Sarastro was sung by a bass who performed under the name Giulio Perkins.

The opera was very rarely performed in those days, and it did not reappear in Scotland until 1913, when the Carl Rosa company toured it, using a new English translation by Edward Dent.

At that point the Carl Rosa also travelled north of the central belt, playing in Dundee and Aberdeen. This cast included a Canadian tenor, Charles Hedmondt as Tamino, and Australian (later Edinburgh-based) soprano Beatrice Miranda as the Queen. Miriam Licette, whose career at Covent Garden extended for thirty years, made an early appearance as Pamina.

The Edinburgh-based Denhof company also performed the Flute in 1913, that company’s last season. The conductor was Thomas Beecham, and he quickly absorbed the production into his own organisation. In 1919 the Beecham cast included Agnes Nicholls, a great Wagnerian, as Pamina, Frederick Ranalow as Papageno and Robert Radford as Sarastro. That company in turn also folded, to be succeeded by the British National Opera Company, who brought The Magic Flute to Scotland in 1923 and 1927. Conductors then were Percy Pitt and Leslie Heward.

Important Scottish soloists included William Anderson (Sarastro) and Noel Eadie (Queen of Night).

Edinburgh International Festival

The Magic Flute has always been a popular favourite at the Edinburgh Festival, particularly with visiting German companies. The Hamburg State Opera has brought three productions, beginning in 1952, with a Gunter Rennert staging conducted by the then unknown young Hungarian Georg Solti. The stellar soloists included Rudolf Schock (Tamino), Gottlob Frick (Sarastro), Elisabeth Grummer and Lisa della Casa (Pamina), as well as Anneliese Rothenberger (Papagena).

In 1956 the conductors were Rudolf Kempe and Leopold Ludwig. More recently, a very different staging in 1983 boasted Helen Donath (Pamina), Rudiger Wohlers (Tamino) and Kurt Moll (Sarastro), conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi.

The Stuttgart Opera came in 1966, conducted by Ferdinand Leitner. The Queen was sung by Sylvia Geszty with Gundula Janowitz as Pamina. Most famous of all, Tamino was beautifully sung by Fritz Wunderlich, in his prime. Wunderlich was tragically killed in an accident on his return home, Edinburgh being the scene of his final performances.

The great Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, who appeared frequently at the Festival, conducted The Magic Flute in 2006, while the most recent Festival staging was by Barrie Kosky and his Komische Oper from Berlin, with Allan Clayton as Tamino.

Other visits

Sadler’s Wells brought the opera to Scotland several times in the sixties. Elizabeth Harwood sang Pamina in 1962, while Dame Anne Evans made her Scottish debut in the same part in 1969. In 1967 the astonishing trio of ladies included both Josephine Barstow and Gillian Knight. Two Glyndebourne stagings were brought north by the company’s touring outfit. In 1971 an attractive production by Franco Enriquez featured Scottish baritone William Elvin as Papageno and an early appearance by Sir John Tomlinson as Priest and Armed Man. A very different concept in 1990 by Peter Sellars (set on a Californian Freeway) boasted a cast of young performers that included Gerald Finley (Papageno), Amanda Roocroft (Pamina) and Barry Banks (Tamino).

Welsh National Opera made its first visit to Glasgow in 1979 with a memorable staging by Goran Jarvefelt. Anthony Rolfe Johnson and John Treleaven were Tamino, Russell Smythe Papageno, Stafford Dean Sarastro, Suzanne Murphy the Queen and Australian Eilene Hannan Pamina.

Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera have mounted the work in six separate stagings, beginning in 1970 when the Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh. The cast at the Lyceum was conducted by Alexander Gibson and directed by Peter Ebert. Singers included David Hillman (Tamino), Jill Gomez (Pamina), Simon Estes (Sarastro) and Michael Maurel (Papageno). Bruce Martin, who went on to pursue an important Wagnerian career home in Australia, made his local debut as the Speaker. At subsequent revivals, Christopher Seaman conducted, with Elizabeth Robson as Pamina and Stafford Dean as Sarastro.

The 1974 medium-scale interpretation was directed by David Pountney, in the highly flexible and entertaining designs of David Fielding and Maria Bjornson. Much of the scenery was in human form, so easy to move. This hugely successful version had 66 performances all over the country, expanding to fill the main stages as well. The first cast employed salaried principals including Patricia Hay (Pamina), Gordon Sandison (Papageno) and Malcolm Donnelly (Speaker). John Robertson and Frederick Donaldson alternated as Tamino (doubling Priest and Armed Man on the nights ‘off’). Only the Sarastros were imported – Robert Lloyd and Clifford Grant. The conductor was Christopher Seaman.

At subsequent revivals, Taminos included Ryland Davies, Robert Tear and Richard Greager, with Margaret Neville and Yvonne Kenny (Pamina), John Macurdy and William McCue (Sarastro) and Catherine Gayer (Queen). Lawrence Foster and Gary Bertini came in to conduct.

The 1983 Scottish Opera production was directed by Jonathan Miller in designs by Philip Prowse of the Glasgow Citizens Theatre. This was an unusual concept, set, it seemed, in an eighteenth-century Viennese library. A studious Tamino nodded off and had some very strange dreams. Alexander Gibson again conducted, with Margaret Marshall as Pamina, Gordon Christie (Tamino) and Benjamin Luxon (Papageno). Two regulars at ENO, Canadian Don Garrard and Australian Margaret Haggart, were brought in as Sarastro and Queen of Night. Company stalwart Patricia Hay, having sung First Lady at all performance of the 1970 staging, and Pamina in dozens of the 1974 one, now returned to lead the trio of ladies once again.

 At the subsequent revivals, new cast members included Robin Leggate (Tamino) and Nan Christie (Queen of Night) with Jane Leslie Mackenzie and Lynne Dawson (Pamina).

The fourth staging in 1992 was directed by Martin Duncan and conducted by Nicholas McGegan. The performances were dominated by an extraordinary first attempt at Papageno by Simon Keenlyside. Of almost equal magnetism was the First Lady of young soprano Susan Chilcott. At later performances there were good performances by Neill Archer (Tamino), Christopher Purves (Speaker) and Richard Farnes (conductor).

The fifth Scottish Opera production by Jonathan Moore opened in 2003, with an interestingly memorable curtain raiser – Tamino as astronaut. Marie Arnet and Iain Paton were Pamina and Tamino. Jennifer Rhys-Davies was a notable Queen, with Roland Wood making an impact as Papageno. Clearly showing promise for the future were two other young performers, Roderick Williams (Speaker) and Karen Cargill (Third Lady).

The present staging is directed by Sir Thomas Allen, himself a veteran of many performances as Papageno and, more recently, Speaker, in designs by Simon Higlett. It opened in 2012, with a cast that included Nicky Spence (Tamino) and Laura Mitchell (Pamina). Richard Burkhard was Papageno and Jonathan Best Sarastro. The conductor was Ekhard Wycik.


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