Opera Scotland

Massenet in Scotland

Posted 4 Aug 2022

Jules Massenet was a highly successful composer with some twenty-eight operas to his credit. It may therefore seem surprising that only eight of them have been performed in Scotland.  And as we have noted, even those have not all been performed professionally. 


The first opera by Massenet to be seen in Scotland was Manon, given by the Carl Rosa company at the Edinburgh Lyceum on 11 November 1885. It was seen at Glasgow Grand the following week. The Carl Rosa had given its UK premiere at its Liverpool headquarters in January, almost a year to the day since its first Paris performance (19 January 1884).

This production featured the hugely popular French soprano Marie Roze, who toured round Britain for many years. The Irish tenor Barton McGuckin sang Des Grieux, with James Sauvage as Lescaut and W H Burgon as the Count. The conductor was a Belgian, Eugène Goossens, who had settled in Britain, where he began a dynasty of famous musicians.

After Marie Roze retired, Manon was rarely performed in the UK, and not seen in Scotland again until 1927, repeated the following year.  This successful revival by the British National Opera Company, forerunner of today's Royal Opera, toured to Glasgow, Edinburgh,  Aberdeen and Dundee. The cast featured Marguerite Anderson in the title role with Heddle Nash, a famous tenor with a career over thirty years, as Des Grieux. The conductor this time was Eugene Goossens, the Bordeaux-born son of the above.  His conducting career was of huge importance, spent entirely in Britain. His children included oboist Leon and harpists Marie and Sidonie.  His eldest child was a third Eugene, himself a successful conductor and composer.

Manon was presented in 1954 by an Italian touring company that visited Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.  This cast was notable for the renowned soprano Margherita Carosio in the title role, with Guido Mazzini as her brother.  English Touring Opera included Manon in its first visit to the Perth Festival in 2001.  Andrew Greenwood conducted a cast that included Kate Ladner and Andrew Burden as Manon and Des Grieux.

Scottish Opera's only attempt at the work came in 2009. The production by Renaud Doucet was conducted by Francesco Corti, with Anne Sophie Duprels as Manon. Paul Charles Clarke sang Des Grieux, with Alan Fairs as his father and Benjamin Bevan as Lescaut.



The second most successful Massenet opera has always been Werther.  However it was not seen in Scotland until 1983, when Scottish Opera tackled Massenet for the first time.  Roderick Brydon conducted Rhoda Levine's staging, with Dennis O'Neill in the title role and Cynthia Buchan as Charlotte. Deborah Rees was Sophie with Alan Watt as Albert  The 1986  revival featured John Treleavan, Rachel Gettler, Rosa Mannion and Robert Dean,  conducted by Kenneth Montgomery.

Scottish Opera mounted a second production in 2013. The conductor was Francesco Corti and director Pia Furtado.  The cast included Jonathan Boyd, Viktoria Vizin, Anna Devin and Roland Wood.


Edinburgh International Festival

The Festival has rarely featured the works of Massenet. The only staging, in 1962, was by the guest opera company from Belgrade.  Most of their repertoire consisted of Russian classics, little known in the west in those days. But they also had a famous production of one of the composer's last operas, the elegiac Don Quichotte.  This featured an excellent bass, Miroslav Cangalovic, in the title role, composed for Shalyapin.  Dulcinée was played by Biserka Cvejic, with Ladko Korosec as Sancho Panza.  The conductor was the company's excellent veteran director, Oscar Danon.

The only other Massenet opera to be seen at the Festival was in concert form at the Usher Hall. The 2011 performance of Thaïs featured the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.  The vocally and dramatically demanding leading part was sung by the late Erin Wall.  Her colleagues included Quinn Kelsey as Athanaël and Eric Cutler as Nicias.


Only one other Massenet work has been seen in Scotland in a fully professional staging. La Navarraise, a short but highly dramatic piece, was premiered by the Royal Italian Opera Company at Covent Garden on 20 June 1894. It was only that September that the same production was brought to the Edinburgh Lyceum.  The title role of the gypsy girl from Navarre, Anita, was taken by a brilliant American singing actress, Pauline Joran. Philip Brozel sang her ill-fated lover Araquil, an army officer, with Armand Castelmary, creator of several roles at the Paris Opéra, and a regular at the Met, as General Garrido.

The achievements of Glasgow Grand in the 1930s are well remembered, including UK premieres of Idomeneo and The Trojans.  What is less known is the contemporaneous work of Edinburgh Grand in presenting Scottish premieres of two spectacular works.  A version of the biblical tale of Herod and Salome, Hérodiade was given in 1931, and Le Cid the following year. The production staff was identical both years, with Herbert More as conductor and the veteran Carl Rosa baritone Hebden Foster directing.  In charge of the important dance sequences was Mrs Foster, otherwise known as the great Australian dramatic soprano Beatrice Miranda, in her day a star of Carl Rosa, BNOC and Covent Garden.  The  Fosters lived in Edinburgh for many years in retirement, contributing much to the city's musical life.

Perhaps someone had a long memory, for EGO tackled Hérodiade once more, in 1990, conducted by Christopher Bell. The excellent casts included Ivor Klayman as Herod and Frances McCafferty as Herodias in what proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable piece.

Massenet's adaptation of the Cinderela story, Cendrillon, has achieved justifiable popularity in recent years. The students of the RSAMD tackled it in 2006, under the baton of Timothy Dean. In 2018 Fife Opera staged it in Kirkcaldy. The director was local boy Douglas Nairne - Master of Ceremonies when he was a student in Glasgow in 2006.  Ivor Klayman added to his Massenet repertoire as Pandolfe.

Thérèse, a compact and highly tuneful drama, first seen at Monte Carlo on 7 February 1907, has not previously been seen in Scotland.


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