Opera Scotland

Denhof Opera Company

The Denhof Opera Company, active from 1910 to 1913, was the first major producer of opera to be established with a base in Scotland. It initially performed exclusively works by Wagner, but later gave the Scottish premieres of three more recent operas, Pelléas et Mélisande, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier. Ernst Denhof was a musician of Swiss nationality, though born in Vienna. He took up residence in Edinburgh as a young man, working as both performer and teacher.

Inspired by the Ring cycles performed at Covent Garden in 1908, Denhof resolved to try something similar in Scotland. The result was a pair of Ring cycles performed in Edinburgh in 1910. The Scottish Orchestra was hired, with some extra players from London. Many of the singers from the London performances were also engaged once more. Elaborate sets and costumes were imported from Germany, along with conductor Michael Balling, who had recently worked at Bayreuth, and was familiar to audiences due to his work with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester and on tour.

After this success, expansion was rapid, with further Ring cycles in 1911 reaching Leeds and Manchester before ending in Glasgow. For 1912 the repertoire broadened, as did the touring programme. Operas included The Flying Dutchman, Tristan and Mastersingers, as well as Gluck's Orfeo and the first performances outside London of Strauss' Elektra.

The hugely ambitious 1913 season, including Pelléas and Rosenkavalier, got off to a difficult start, with the visits to Birmingham and Manchester losing heavily. Denhof himself had now run out of money. The company, and most of its scheduled performances, were taken over, and financed, by conductor Thomas Beecham, who completed most of the proposed tour and went on to run his own operatic entity for most of the next decade.

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