Opera Scotland

Madam Butterfly 1917O'Mara Grand Opera Company

Read more about the opera Madama Butterfly

In spite of the difficulties experienced in wartime, the touring opera companies managed to keep going somehow. The O'Mara repertoire for the spring tour in 1917 (Scottish dates restricted to Aberdeen and Dundee) included two works by a living composer - inevitably Puccini, whose Madam Butterfly and Tosca had swiftly become hugely popular. Wagner was also represented by two works, the frequently performed Tannhäuser and the much more complex and unfamiliar Tristan and Isolde. These four were given in both cities. The other six works in the repertoire were divided, so Aberdonians saw Don Giovanni, Il trovatore and The Bohemian Girl, while Dundee had Faust, La traviata and The Lily of Killarney.

When the company returned in the autumn, Aberdeen was omitted, but the company visited Dundee and Edinburgh for one week each, before spending a fortnight in Glasgow.   There was no Wagner at all (the irreplaceable tenor William Boland was not with the company this time). Dundee and Edinburgh both saw Cav & Pag, La bohème, Il trovatore and Faust. Dundee also got Carmen, Maritana and Bohemian Girl, while Edinburgh had Rigoletto, Butterfly and Tosca. Glasgow presumably saw all ten programmes (to be confirmed).

Cast details are taken from the Dundee Advertiser and Dundee Courier & Argus, for Tuesday 27 March.


Dundee Press Comment

Dundee Advertiser: Tuesday, March 27, 1917

O’Mara Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre - “Madam Butterfly”

'What promises to be an exceptionally brilliant music festival at Her Majesty's Theatre opened auspiciously last night, when Mr Joseph O'Mara presented to Dundee playgoers a finished and artistic performance of Puccini's Madam Butterfly. This most successful of modern operas, by the most gifted of all contemporary Italian composers has triumphantly weathered much high-browed criticism. It has even been condemned as a modern American feuilleton done into music, but when all is said, Madam Butterfly remains a beautiful and characteristic piece of work by a composer which in no small measure combines the sensuous melody of Rossini and Verdi with the richness of modern impressionist harmony.

'Quite apart from his saving latin sense of grace and beauty, Puccini displays throughout this work clear and superlative gifts of operatic construction. Nothing could be more fairylike than the delicate and tenderly-written love scenes of the first act, when Lieutenant Pinkerton of the USA Navy, takes his Japanese bride to the little nest on the hill. It is an idyllic picture, but the course of true love is overshadowed when Pinkerton, with too great alacrity quits Japan, giving a lightly-spoken promise to return when the robins begin to nest. Puccini has rendered very finely the coming of care to the heart of live, developing his theme with true artistic feeling. Then passing through this middle period, he comes as he ought with ever quickening action to his tragic denouement.

'The whole opera is full of passages of infinite beauty. Puccini is particularly happy in achieving the felicitous interdependence of voice and orchestra - which characteristic was admirably brought out last night not only by the artistic quality of Mr O'Mara's singers, but also by the careful and ever sympathetic conducting of Mr W J C Hekker.

'But in the last analysis the success of Madam Butterfly does not lie with the whole company so much as with one singer. Cho-Cho-San is the opera, and the reappearance of Miss Florence Morden in the title-role last night was sufficient guarantee of great excellence. Miss Morden, who gave an ideal presentation of Madam Butterfly in Dundee a year ago, repeated, and if possible improved upon, her previous achievement. In some respects the part does not afford her opportunity for the fullest display of her voice - one of the most wonderful on the operatic stage - but it exhibits to the full the purity of every note she sings, her faultless phrasing, and her outstanding dramatic sense.  She showed herself indeed a dramatic artist of exceptional ability, and in the closing scene there was a splendid dramatic intensity which was only the more effective because of its restraint.  In every way the part fitted Miss Morden like a well-cut glove, and so far as cantabile singing is concerned, Dundonians will have an opportunity of hearing her later in the week as Floria Tosca and Marguerite.

'Mr Henry O'Dempsey as Pinkerton sang and acted a thankless character with more than distinction.  It is the necessary misfortune of such parts that the better they are played the less we like them, and the fact that Mr O'Dempsey roused in one heart feelings akin to murder was a splendid tribute to his mastery of his art.  As Sharpless, Mr Albert Kirkman acted with fine restraint, and sang in dignified and expressive fashion.  Miss Mabel Dennis as Suzuki scored notably in a character which lent itself well to her rich and sympathetic voice.  The other parts down to that of Cho-Cho-San's child, so fittingly christened Trouble, were all splendidly rendered, and the general staging of the play was remarkably fine.'


Dundee Courier & Argus: Tuesday, March 27, 1917  (p4)

Her Majesty’s Theatre - The O’Mara Grand Opera Company - “Madame Butterfly”

 'The third visit to Dundee of the O’Mara Grand Opera Company began at Her Majesty’s Theatre last night with an excellent performance of Puccini’s exquisite and pathetic opera Madame Butterfly.  Despite the war and in the face of difficulties of transit and of the dearth of male vocalists, Mr O’Mara keeps the operatic flag in the provinces still flying.  We are much indebted to him for this, and while he presents opera in the way he did last night he deserves all the success he can get, and more.  The moderate prices charged make it incumbent on all lovers of music to patronise the Theatre, not once, but many times this week, and judging by last night’s performance they will not be disappointed.

'Madame Butterfly has only been given twice before in Dundee - first by the Moody-Manners Company, and then by the O’Mara Company.  It is extremely modern in musical form, and the orchestral part is of supreme importance, providing as it does a constantly changing background to the vocal parts of the dramatic action.  The story is pathetic in the extreme, typical of woman’s trust and man’s infidelity.  It is too familiar to require repetition at this time of day.

'The title role is an exacting one - lengthy and trying - and Miss Florence Morden who filled it - and filled it so well - is the only member of last year’s cast.  She gives a beautiful picture of the charming Japanese girl who loves not wisely but too well.  The part makes great demands vocally, but still more from a dramatic point of view, for poor Butterfly, merry and bright in the first act, full of unquenchable trust in the second, is plunged in despair in the last.  Miss Morden, as before, succeeded in portraying all these different phases with consummate art.  Her singing, too, was delightful.  Her voice is full and sweet, under perfect control, and she puts into it most sympathetic and expressive colour.  Her part in the warmly-coloured duet with which the first act closes was done with extreme care and delicacy, and in the last act she sang with superb pathos.  The little part of Suzuki was filled with great success by Miss Mabel Dennis, who both sang and acted with great dramatic power and whom we look forward to seeing and hearing in a bigger part.

'Mr Henry O’Dempsey, promoted from the part of Goro, filled the part of Pinkerton with much success.  It is far from a grateful part, and Mr O’Dempsey, while acting a little stiffly, sang tunefully and well.  Mr Albert Kirkman made a capital Consul Sharpless, acting with tact and sympathy, and the various other parts were capably filled.  The chorus, which has little to do, could not be heard to great advantage, and the band, with many ladies in it, and a particularly effective lady leader, played fairly well.  Mr W J C Hekker conducted carefully and well.

To-night Wagner’s most popular opera, Tannhäuser, will be played, with Miss Anna Lindsey, Miss Violet Parsons, who hails from Arbroath, Mr William Boland, Mr William Anderson, and Mr Flintoff Moore in the cast.

'We are desired to mention that slips telling the stories of La Tosca and Tristan and Isolde, the greatest novelties of the week, can be had free on application at the Box Office, Messrs Paterson, Reform Street, or at the Theatre.  Some knowledge of the plot is essential to the appreciation of a new opera, and full advantage should therefore be taken of this generous offer.'


The O'Mara Grand Opera Company Scottish Tours - 1917

The O'Mara company came to Scotland twice in 1917.  In March there were two weeks, one in Aberdeen (His Majesty's) and one in Dundee (Her Majesty's).  In October the company returned to Dundee for a week, followed by a week in Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum) then a fortnight in Glasgow (Theatre Royal)

The schedule known so far is as follows:

Aberdeen, w/c 19 March:  Mon 19 Madam Butterfly;  Tue 20 Tannhäuser;  Wed 21 tbc;  Thu 22 Tristan and Isolde;  Fri 23 Tosca;  Sat 24 mat tbc;  Sat 24 eve tbc

Dundee, w/c 26 March:  Mon 26 Madam Butterfly;  Tue 27 Tannhäuser;  Wed 28 Traviata;  Thu 29 Tristan and Isolde;  Fri 30 Tosca;  Sat 31 mat Faust;  Sat 31 eve Lily of Killarney

Dundee, w/c 8 October:  Mon 8 Carmen;  Tue 9 Cav & Pag;  Wed 10 Maritana;  Thu 11 Faust;  Fri 12 Bohème;  Sat 13 mat Trovatore;  Sat 13 eve Bohemian Girl.


Edinburgh, w/c 22 October:  Mon 22 tbc;  Tue 23 tbc;  Wed 24 tbc;  Thu 25 Tosca;  Fri 26 tbc;  Sat 27 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 27 eve Faust.

Glasgow, w/c 29 October:  Mon 29 tbc;  Tue 30 tbc;  Wed 31 tbc;  Thu 1 Nov tbc;  Fri 2 tbc; Sat 3 mat tbc;  Sat 3 eve tbc.

Glasgow, w/c 5 November:  Mon 5 tbc;  Tue 6 tbc;  Wed 7 tbc;  Thu 8  tbc;  Fri 9 Bohème;  Sat 10 mat Tannhäuser;  Sat 10 eve tbc.

Performance Cast

Lieutenant F B Pinkerton U S Navy

Henry O'Dempsey (Mar 26)

Suzuki Cio-Cio-San's servant

Mabel Dennis (Mar 26)

Sharpless U S Consul in Nagasaki

Albert Kirkman (Mar 26)

Cio-Cio-San known as Madam Butterfly

Florence Morden (Mar 26)

Performance DatesMadam Butterfly 1917

Map List

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

19 Mar, 19.15

Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

26 Mar, 19.15

Royal Lyceum Theatre | Edinburgh

27 Oct, 14.00

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