Opera Scotland

Bohème 1917O'Mara Grand Opera Company

Read more about the opera Bohème

The O'Mara company had already toured Scotland in the spring of 1917, though Bohème was not included on that schedule. The week's programme at Her Majesty's was: Mon Carmen; Tue Cav & Pag; Wed Maritana; Thu Faust; Fri Bohème; Sat mat Trovatore; Sat eve Bohemian Girl.

The fact that Bohème was scheduled for a Friday evening in both cities is indication that a good deal of orchestral rehearsal was required through the week for a piece not yet part of the standard repertoire. Trovatore (in Dundee) and Tannhäuser (in Glasgow) were familiar works any competent pit band could be expected to sight-read their way through the following afternoon without rehearsal - a fact equally true of Bo Girl that evening.

In his curtain speech in Dundee, Joseph O'Mara told the audience that it was not just the first performance of Bohème given in Dundee, but also the first performance of the work by the O'Mara company. Certainly, reviewers appear to have commented on the freshness of the performance, with no sense of routine in the lively dancing and horseplay of the students. The chorus in the café scene was also well received.


Dundee Press Opinion

Dundee Advertiser: Saturday, October 13, 1917  (p6)

Opera in Dundee - O’Mara Company in “La Bohème”

'After the splendid audience of last night no one need say that Dundee is not enlightened enough to welcome operatic novelties of worth.  And not only was the audience large, its appreciation was in proportion to its size.  Again and again the curtain had to rise at the conclusion of acts in order that the singers might receive the warm congratulation of the delighted hearers.

'In La Bohème Puccini has given us something that should live, if there is life in lovely melody, poignant harmony, and original and well-varied instrumentation.  It is true that there is no real “plot” in the opera, the work consisting of disjointed episodes from Murger’s Scènes de la vie de Boheme - one of the most amusing French books of last century.  The opera retains a good deal of the humour of the book, and moves to frequent laughter.  It is at its best, however, where feeling and emotion are deepest.  Puccini has a real gift for the expression in music of tenderness as well as passion.  He is not discursive and prolix like the Teutonic Wagner, but speaks tersely to the point, and with an Italian grace that the older writer had no capacity for.  Much of the interest lies in the orchestral score, which is one long web of song.  Yet the voice is not without its lyrical opportunities.  “Thy tiny hand is frozen,” for instance, gave Mr O’Mara a splendid opportunity for the display of his vocal art, and the ensuing duet with Miss Gibson as Mimi, culminating in the prolonged cadence as the singers pass behind the scenes, was as effective as it was beautiful.  The vocal work - chorus and solo - outside the Café Momus was, despite unusual key changes, clear and direct as one could wish.  Mr Joseph Griffin as Colline, the philosopher, had also his vocal chance when in the last act he bids farewell to his old overcoat with its memorable pockets usually so full of books.  After all, however, La Bohème does not depend for its success on any definite set number or numbers.  Music pervades it not here and there, but from end to end, now in the orchestra, now in a solo voice or in a chorus, but always present.

As Mr O’Mara, in his graceful little speech at the end, informed us, this was not only the first performance of La Bohème in Dundee; it was also its first performance by the O’Mara Company.  That being the case, it was little less than wonderful that so capital a rendering resulted.  The players carried themselves and sang as if they had appeared in the work scores of times.

'In mentioning the singers, pride of place must certainly be accorded to Miss Jean Gibson, who was a very perfect, gentle Mimì.  Her voice seemed more beautiful than ever, and her quiet pathos must have touched every heart.  Miss Alma Lowe’s rendering of the good-natured flirt, Musetta, was pleasantly realistic.  The male members of the cast, especially Mr O’Mara, Mr Moore, and Mr Griffin, gave the humorous scenes with great vim, the dancing in the last act being particularly good.

'The band, on which so much depends, led by Mr R J Forbes, was worthy of Mr O’Mara’s compliments.  Puccini uses his instruments with a fine ear for contrasts and tone-colour, and his score contains some original effects.  The use of the harp and flute at the commencement of Act 3 could hardly escape the notice of the most careless listener. Altogether the date of the production here of La Bohème should be marked with a red letter.

'To-day Il Trovatore in the afternoon, and The Bohemian Girl in the evening, with good casts, will complete the week’s programme.'


Dundee Courier & Argus: Saturday, October 13, 1917   (p2)

Her Majesty’s Theatre - The O’Mara Opera Company - “La Boheme”

'Last night the O’Mara Opera Company presented for the first time to a Dundee audience Puccini’s early and first successful opera, La Bohème.  Not only was it the first time this opera has been heard in Dundee, but in consequence of the brilliance and finish of the performance we were surprised to learn that it was the first time the opera had been played by the O’Mara Company.  Mr O’Mara himself has often played Rudolph before, and possibly other members of the company have appeared under other managements in La Bohème, but it is certain that last night’s performance was the first by the present company.  All honour, therefore, to every member of the company for a performance of wonderful finish and distinction.

'La Bohème is full of charm.  The story is a quaint blend of La Traviata and Trilby, with all the dramatic sense of the former and the poetic and artistic atmosphere of the latter. Life in the Latin Quarter of Paris could possibly be made very sordid, and it is to the credit of Puccini and his librettists that the work is full of refinement and dainty charm.

'The story is familiar but ever charming.  The hard-up artists of various kinds, their happy-go-lucky mode of life, and their easy generosity are shown in vivid, attractive colours, and the character of the hapless Mimì is one of intensely pathetic interest.  We cannot, under present circumstances, detail the plot; suffice it to say that it is a delightful picture of a life which, perhaps not entirely moral, is full of vital interest and humanity.

'Puccini’s music, which does not lend itself to detailed notice because there are few numbers which can be singled out for special mention, is characterised by glowing colour and appropriateness.  The second act, “Outside the Café Momus,” is extraordinarily realistic and lifelike, and the first act, where we meet the four artists and Mimì, is full of beauty and charm.

'Miss Jean Gibson distinguished herself as Mimì.  Singing better than she has done earlier in the week, she acted with tender charm, the duet with Rudolph in the first act being a beautiful performance, and the death scene being delicately and impressively played.  Miss Alma Lowe made a gay and fascinating Musetta, singing brightly and acting with freshness and vivacity.  Mr O’Mara was entirely successful in this class of singing.  Mr Flintoff Moore as Marcel sang splendidly, as he always does, and Mr George M’Donald’s Schaunard was an excellent bit of work, vocally and dramatically.  The landlord, Benoit, was happily played by Mr Swift, and Mr Jay Ryan appeared with success as Musetta’s elderly admirer, Alcindoro.  Mr Joseph Griffin sang vigorously as Colline.

'The fine orchestration was done ample justice to under Mr R J Forbes’ direction, and the chorus, which had little to do, did it well, their business in the second act being happily bustling and effective.

'This afternoon Il Trovatore will be given with Misses Felix and Dennis and Messrs Harrison and M’Donald in the chief parts.  At night the popular Bohemian Girl will be performed, Miss Lowe playing Arline; Miss Ainsley, the Gipsy Queen; Mr O’Dempsey, Thaddeus; Mr Moore, Count Arnheim; and Mr Griffin, Devilshoof.

'There was a fine house last night, and we hope this delightful engagement will have a prosperous and encouraging finish.

'At the end of last night’s performance Mr O’Mara made a short speech, promising, as he did in his letter, that on his next visit he would ask the public to vote and would produce the seven operas which received the highest number of votes.'


Dundee Advertiser: Saturday: October 13, 1917    (p6)

Correspondence - Opera in Dundee

Sir - Re Mr O’Mara’s letter on the above subject, it is really amazing that the Dundee public should think they know Mr O’Mara’s business as better than he does himself.  They ought to be jolly glad he has the courage to carry on at all.  They might as well ask him to stage Wagner’s Ring with an orchestra of 30 performers as Tristan or Tannhäuser!  Personally, I should have liked to hear Orpheus and Rigoletto, which are being done by him in Aberdeen, but Mr O’Mara knows his Dundee public, and they have themselves to blame if they won’t go to his novelties.

While on this subject, we should like to think that in the near future it might be possible to give opera in co-operation with the Dundee Choral Union or Parish Church choir as chorus.  This, we are sure, would give a needed fillip to singers in Dundee.  Lastly, it is deplorable that so little enterprise is shown by concert promoters here, so that hardly a vocal or instrumental concert is to be given even for charitable purposes.  Time was when the Teutonic pianos and artistes were rife and concert-giving was seemingly profitable, but nowadays patriotism in music seemingly consists in waving the Union Jack and doin’ nuffin’.  Pity the poor Germans.

I am &c


11th Oct 1917.


The cast for Glasgow is drawn from a programme in the Mitchell Library. The Dundee cast is as reviewed in both the Dundee Advertiser and Courier & Argus.

Performance Cast

Rodolfo a poet

Joseph O'Mara (Oct 12; Nov 9)

Marcello a painter

Flintoff Moore (Oct 12; Nov 9)

Colline a philosopher

Joseph Griffin (Oct 12; Nov 9)

Schaunard a musician

George McDonald (Oct 12; Nov 9)

Benoit the students' landlord

Mr Swift (Oct 12)

Jay Ryan (Nov 9)

Mimì a seamstress

Jean Gibson (Oct 12; Nov 9)

Musetta a grisette

Alma Lowe (Oct 12)

Violet Parsons (Nov 9)

Alcindoro a wealthy follower of Musetta

Jay Ryan (Oct 12; Nov 9)

Performance DatesBohème 1917

Map List

Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

12 Oct, 19.15

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

9 Nov, 19.15

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2023

Site by SiteBuddha