Opera Scotland

Carmen 1915O'Mara Grand Opera Company

Read more about the opera Carmen

Joseph O'Mara, an Irish tenor, had been one of the leading members of the Moody-Manners organisation for many years.  After that group gave up touring, he carried on, giving regular employment to several old hands from the previous company.  He also continued to work with  long-familiar guest principals such as Zélie de Lussan, who, on this occasion, was about to retire from the stage.


Press Comment

Dundee Advertiser: Tuesday, March 16, 1915

O’Mara Opera Company - Fine Performance of Carmen

'Opera is so composite a thing, so many ingredients - music, acting, scenery, solo and chorus singing, orchestra, and stage arrangements - go to make one that it is seldom a hearer is enabled to say that anything like the ideal in performance has been attained.  Sometimes a fine singer cannot act, occasionally a good actor cannot sing, the band now and then is too excessively zealous, and choruses have been known to be indifferent while the most heinous crimes were being committed under their noses.  At Her Majesty's Theatre last night such drawbacks were entirely absent.

'Carmen went with a snap and vitality and at times pathetic force that touched the audience as an audience seldom is touched by things operatic, so that it may fairly be said that if the ideal was not reached it was missed by but the thousandth part of an inch.  Any slight defect arose not from anything left undone, but rather from a trifling excess.  For example, it may have struck some that the brilliancy and number of the costumes in Lillas Pastia's tavern were more than might have been expected.  Perhaps, however, it should be remembered that this tavern was, if not a castle, a tavern - in Spain.   Bizet's masterpiece, which has frequently been given in Dundee, was never heard here under more favourable conditions.  The fine rhythm of the music was most aptly rendered, the scenery was beautiful, and the acting had at supreme moments a realistic force that not the most accustomed to the make-believe of the stage was proof against.

'Doubtless a large part of the credit for this undoubted success was due to Mdlle Zélie de Lussan, the Carmen of the evening.  This gifted singer may be said not so much to enact the character as to be it.  Not for one moment are we conscious that she is anything but the handsome, impudent and fascinating jade of Prosper Mérimée’s picturesque story.  Then Mdlle de Lussan's voice seems to be as fresh and pliable to-day as it was some few years ago when we first heard it. Its quality in the middle and lower notes is beautifully mellow, and the upper register is penetrating and telling, without stridency.  Miss Thomas' quiet and restrained rendering of the gentle Michaela was a fine contrast to the flamboyancy of Carmen.  Her music was sung with taste and purity, the duet with Don José in Act l, with its piano close, gaining much of its effect from her careful vocalisation.  Her natural rendering of recitative also demands recognition.

'The big part of Don José fell to Mr O'Mara, and he achieved big things with it.  A remarkable feature of his singing is the variety of tone colour he employs, and a pleasant head voice serves him very prettily in tender passages.  But he is also equal to sterner things, and at times his upper chest notes have an admirable touch of metal in their tone.  In Act 3, where he breaks with Carmen, he reached a high pitch of tragic intensity in his acting, while the moving power displayed in the final scene had much to do at its conclusion with the demands and re-demands for the raising of the curtain.  Mr Lewys James made an excellent Escamillo, his fine baritone being heard to much advantage in the famous Toreador song.  The refrain of this song was sung with quite exceptional spirit by the chorus, the members of which were probably inspired by the soloists' example. In the part of Zuniga,   Mr Kingsley Lark exhibited qualities of voice and manner that promise well for the future.  Other parts were ably sustained by Miss Rigby, and Miss Constance Bower, and Messrs O'Dempsey,  Tattersall, and Montgomery.  There were no weak spots in the cast, the players of the smaller parts seeming to be equal to better things.

'The chorus, as already indicated, sang with brilliance.  It is a well-dressed and well-looking body, and is intensely interested in everything that is going on.  The costumes are rich and varied in hue, and the artistic lighting gave these full effect.  Half a dozen young dancers, by their light and graceful movements, lent an unusual and additional charm to some of the scenes.  Bizet's captivating score was splendidly rendered by a largely increased orchestra, directed by Mr Herbert Ferrers.  Especially one would like to acknowledge the work of the harpist and the flutes.  The latter were specially prominent in the Prelude to Act 3, in which the composer has paid an undoubted compliment to the Emerald Isle.

'So satisfying a performance augurs well for the operas yet to be played.  To-morrow, we observe, Mr O'Mara and Mr James are to appear in Pagliacci, while two new prima donnas will be heard for the first time - one in that opera, and the other in Cavalleria Rusticana.  For the first night of a new company the attendance must be considered excellent.'


Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post: Tuesday, March 16, 1915    (p5)   

Her Majesty’s Theatre - The O’Mara Opera Company in Bizet’s Carmen

'Carmen is a popular opera for the best of reasons and in the best sense of the word.   Unlike so many operas, it has a romantic plot, which develops in rational fashion.   We all have a sneaking liking for those free-living vagabonds, the “wraggle-taggle” gipsies.   Few of us would have the courage to join a band of the tatterdemalions, but we like to read about or see those who do.   Don Jose’s adventure is not a happy one, and Carmen is too heartless a baggage to be much in our sympathies; yet the story of this unhappy pair has the true ring of humanity, and the picturesque backgrounds of wild Southern passion.   Lucky is the opera with so thrilling a plot.

'Then the music is fresh and piquant, reminiscent of no stock patterns and delightfully original in rhythm and melodic curve.   From the first bar of the overture, with its lively march rhythm, on to the final passionate climax, it has never a dull moment.   Sparkling airs are interposed at times and splendid choruses, and at all points the music reinforces the stage action.   Yet the music is seldom deep, and never beyond the easy comprehension of the average man.   To be popular yet seldom deep, to be scholarly and never pedantic, and to win the affections of both musical student and casual music lover, is to have achieved a very great thing in musical art.   This Bizet has done in his Carmen, and few composers have been so successful as he in this respect.

'This is the first visit of the O’Mara Opera Company, and their performance of Carmen last night was thoroughly good.   So much of Bizet’s music is light in character that the opera appears at first sight easy to play.   But it really is not so, and it is to the credit of the principals that there was admirable contrast between the bright and sparkling music of the early acts and the sombre music which becomes more insistent as the opera proceeds.   The least satisfactory part was the rendering of the orchestral score.  The orchestra was too loud at times, and much more could have been made of expressive light and shade, as well as of fine phrasing.

'The chorus singers did their work well.  They seemed a trifle perfunctory at first, but this feeling soon wore off, and their fresh, well-balanced voices rang out sonorously in the vigorous choruses of the last three acts, especially in “As for the Guards.”

'Miss de Lussan’s Carmen is one of the great operatic successes of our time.  It has been a household word for a good many days - not to say years - amongst opera lovers.  As a piece of acting alone it is superb in its rich characteristics of the inconstant, warm-blooded gipsy.  Carmen is a creature of moods, a fierce, passionate woman of uncontrolled emotions, and as such Miss de Lussan makes the gipsy a perfect study. Vocally, the famous singer is almost as good as ever.  Time will nibble at the best of voices, but it is marvellous how well Miss de Lussan’s voice has retained its richness and purity.  The Habanera and the Card Song were admirably sung, and her judicious management of her voice was a model for younger singers to copy.   Its range of tone-colour has not abated one whit.

'Mr O’Mara is also an operatic artist of rare qualities.  He can act as few operatic tenors can, and did not spare himself in the trying part of Don José.  He made the poor, love-smitten soldier an object for our sympathy.  In declamatory passages he sang with great fervour, and his rendering of the Flower Song was touching and artistic.  But even the most trivial phrase was given in a finished fashion. When a ringing high note was needed he was fully equipped for the demands of the music, and the gentler and tenderer passages gained in significance by the wealth of feeling infused into them.

'The part of Escamillo was undertaken by Mr Lewys James.  Of course, the Toreador’s Song gained the inevitable encore, and he sang the love music with Carmen in an ardent manner.   His voice still has fine sonorous qualities, and he sings as artistically as ever.

'The most beautiful story in the whole opera is that given to Michaela early in the third act, and beginning with the words, “I said naught should frighten me here.”  Miss Thomas used her sweet and expressive soprano voice in this song with great sympathy, and her earlier scenes with Don José were charmingly sung.  Mr Kingsley Lark did well in the small part of Zuniga; Mr O’Dempsey, as Dancairo, did the usual whip-cracking business round the person of Remendado (Mr Tattersall); and Mr Montgomery was satisfactory as Moralès.  The two gipsies Frasquita and Mercédès were capably represented by Miss Rigby and Miss Constance Bower, the latter of whom seems to be a contralto of very considerable parts.

'There are some very charming pieces of part-writing in the opera, and the delightful quintette, “When there’s cheating to be done,” a perfect bit of light concerted music, was rendered in sparkling and dainty fashion by the five singers.

'Except for the dress circle, there was a well-filled house.  To-night Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are to be played, with Mr O’Mara and Mr Lewys James in favourite parts.'

Performance Cast

Moralès a corporal of dragoons

Mr Montgomery (Mar 15)

Micaëla a peasant girl

Towena Thomas (Mar 15)

Don José a corporal of dragoons

Joseph O'Mara (Mar 15)

Zuniga a lieutenant of dragoons

Kingsley Lark (Mar 15)

Carmen a gypsy

Zélie de Lussan (Mar 15)

Frasquita a gypsy, Carmen’s friend

Maud Rigby (Mar 15)

Mercédès a gypsy, Carmen’s friend

Constance Bower (Mar 15)

Escamillo a toreador

Lewys James (Mar 15)

Dancaïre a smuggler

Mr C Tattersall (Mar 15)

Remendado a smuggler

Henry O'Dempsey (Mar 15)

Performance DatesCarmen 1915

Map List

Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

15 Mar, 19.15

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