Opera Scotland

Merrie England 1960Sadler's Wells Opera

Read more about the opera Merrie England

Merrie England was first performed in London at the Savoy Theatre on 2 April 1902, during the generally fruitless search for successors to Gilbert and Sullivan. It was considered to be one of the most successful of those works, and contains several features that seem quite derivative.  It had remained popular with amateur performers, but had not been revived professionally since shortly after the war.  This staging had a text revised by the director to include the supposed attempt by Lopez to poison Elizabeth.

It was successful with the public, less so with the critics (though the Glasgow Herald seems to have enjoyed it). Any further experimentation with it became unnecessary within a couple of years, since the copyright expired on Gilbert's writings in 1962, allowing the Sadler's Wells company access to The Mikado and other masterpieces of its type.


Dundee Press Opinion

Dundee Courier & Advertiser:  Tuesday, October 25, 1960

“Merrie England” with a new look

'Merrie England, Edward German's light opera, has been a favourite in Dundee for many years with amateur societies.  There was practically a full theatre at the Gaumont last night to hear and see it performed by professionals. The Sadler's Wells Opera began their Dundee week by bringing a sumptuously-staged version of this tuneful entertainment, containing under producer Dennis Arundell a fascinating diversity of new ideas and “old English” detail.  For example:  I have never before seen Queen Elizabeth dancing in Merrie England - a brilliant concerted scene, this - nor the masque of St George and the Dragon done with such lavish comic mounting, including a splendidly pantomimic dragon.

'The stage was frequently crowded - sometimes a little too much for the dancing sequences - with a profusion of artistic costumes.  The three worn successively by the Queen were particularly fine in their effect, an impression heightened by Anna Pollak's imperious performance.  The well-loved solos, the concerted pieces, and the broadly harmonised choruses bowled along handsomely under the impetus of fine voices and an orchestral accompaniment that provided at least fifty per cent of the evening's pleasure.  John Barker, the conductor, exerted a delicate control over his large orchestra.

'Anna Pollak's study of Queen Elizabeth had a dominating influence.  In three comparatively short appearances her facial play, rise and fall of the imperious shoulders, and superb elocution provided that sharp-pointed atmosphere that means life to a play.  Vocally, she was an admirable mezzo-soprano with a large range in “O, Peaceful England”  (there are no contraltos in Sadler's Wells ratings - they are mezzos).

'The two on the romantic side - John Carolan as Raleigh and Anne Edwards as Bessie Throckmorton - both pleased the audience so much that they stopped the action for encores.  Carolan, a lyric tenor with a lovely high-placed voice, and Miss Edwards, a competent and agile soprano, did a fine night's work.

'John Hargreaves, whose baritone quality we have previously sampled in Mozart, Puccini, and others, made a polished Essex, excellent in tone and musical emphasis.  The large cast was also notable for a Jill-All-Alone by Ann Robson that was beautifully sung, and a fresh-voiced May Queen (Suzanne Steele). John Holmes led a lively bunch of comedians in resourceful style, bringing to the part of Walter Wilkins, the actor, a pseudo-Shakespearean delivery that was extremely choice.'

Opera News

'Ava June, who has one of the leading roles in Andrea Chénier the Giordano opera to be presented at the Gaumont on Friday evening, was married on Saturday at Caxton Hall to a London architect.   Her Dundee appearance that night will be her first following her wedding.

'The Sadler's Wells Opera is due in Dundee again on 1 May next year for a week.  The provisional repertoire includes new productions of Tosca and La Traviata.

Note: A letter appeared in Wednesday's Courier from a member of the audience who complained about the number of people in the audience on Monday evening who smoked during the performance.   He found the fug caused by smoke from cigarettes and even pipes to be most objectionable “particularly during the current damp weather”, and was sure it could not be good for the singers.


Sadler's Wells Opera's Scottish Tours - 1960

Sadler's Wells Opera made two visits in 1960.  In spring there were three weeks - Edinburgh (King's) followed by Aberdeen (His Majesty's) and Glasgow (Empire).  In October a week in Glasgow (Empire) was followed by a week in Dundee (Gaumont).

The ten operas performed on thess tours were:  Mozart (Don Giovanni);  Rossini (Barber of Seville,  Cinderella);  Wagner (Tannhäuser);  J Strauss (Fledermaus);  Puccini (Bohème,  Madam Butterfly);  Humperdinck (Hansel and Gretel);  Giordano (Andrea Chénier);  German (Merrie England).

Edinburgh, w/c 29 February:  Mon 29 Fledermaus;  Tue 1 Mar Cinderella;  Wed 2 Tannhäuser;  Thu 3 Don Giovanni;  Fri 4 Cinderella;  Sat 5 m Fledermaus;  Sat 5 e Bohème.

Aberdeen, w/c 7 March:  Mon 7 Fledermaus;  Tue 8 Don Giovanni;  Wed 9 Cinderella;  Thu 10 Bohème;  Fri 11 Tannhäuser;  Sat 12 m Fledermaus;  Sat 12 e Cinderella.

Glasgow, w/c 14 March:  Mon 14 Cinderella;  Tue 15 Tannhäuser;  Wed 16 Bohème;  Thu 17 Fledermaus;  Fri 18 Don Giovanni;  Sat 19 m Fledermaus;  Sat 19 e Cinderella.

Glasgow, w/c 17 October:  Mon 17 Barber of Seville;  Tue 18 Andrea Chénier;  Wed 19 Merrie England;  Thu 20 Barber of Seville;  Fri 21 Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 22 m Merrie England;  Sat 22 e Madam Butterfly.

Dundee, w/c 24 October:  Mon 24 Merrie England;  Tue 25 Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 26 Barber of Seville;  Thu 27 Madam Butterfly;  Fri 28 Andrea Chénier;  Sat 29 m Barber of Seville;  Sat 29 e Merrie England.


Dundee Press Preview

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Saturday, September 17, 1960

Sadler’s Wells to give Dundee an opera preview

'Dundee is to see a preview of Sadler’s Wells Opera’s new production of The Barber of Seville during the company’s visit to the Gaumont next month.  It is to open in London on December 7.

'Sadler’s Wells have for some time been operating two companies, drawing on a pool of singers and conductors, so that one company touring is of the same standard as the other in London.  There are two choruses and two orchestras.


Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Saturday, October 8, 1960

'Sadler’s Wells Opera, who are to give a week’s performance at Dundee Gaumont Theatre from October 24, will be bringing three conductors, 30 principal singers, a chorus of 48, orchestra of 55, and a ballet of 12 dancers.


Dundee Evening Telegraph: Tuesday, October 11, 1960

A Week of Opera

 'The Sadler’s Wells Company open a one-week opera season at the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee, on October 24.  The highlight will be two performances of a new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville before its London opening in December.  The programme also includes Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, Edward German’s Merrie England, and two familiar favourites - Madam Butterfly by Puccini and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.

'The Barber of Seville will be performed on the Wednesday and on the Saturday afternoon.  On both occasions Catherine Wilson sings the leading role Rosina. Kevin Miller is Almaviva and Eric Shilling is Doctor Bartolo.  The role of Figaro is sung by John Heddle Nash on Wednesday and by Julian Moyle on Saturday.

'The season opens with Merrie England, which has just completed a seven-week run in London, and there will be a second performance on the last night.  Anna Pollak appears as Queen Elizabeth, with John Hargreaves as The Earl of Essex and John Carolan as Sir Walter Raleigh.  The part of Wilkins, the comedy actor, will be played by John Holmes on Monday and Denis Dowling on Saturday.

'Glasgow-born tenor William Aitken sings leading parts in two different operas two nights running.  On the Thursday he will sing the role of Pinkerton opposite Victoria Elliott’s Madam Butterfly.  The following night he sings the title role in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, which is rarely produced in Britain.   Andrea Chénier, which is set in the time of the French Revolution, was the opening production of last year’s London season.

'Hansel and Gretel, Grimm’s fairy-tale, an operatic version by Humperdinck, is a firm favourite of Sadler’s Wells audiences.  On Tuesday, October 25 Iris Kells will appear as Gretel, Suzanne Steele as Hansel and Sheila Rex as the Witch.'


Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Wednesday, October 12, 1960

“Butterfly” Bookings Booming

'Booking for the Sadler’s Wells opera season at Dundee Gaumont Theatre is going well and Madam Butterfly (Thursday October 27) is now practically a sell-out.  By yesterday the only seats left for this opera were in the upper circle (the gallery).  Butterfly this year will be sung by Victoria Elliott and Lieut. Pinkerton will be William Aitken the Glasgow-born tenor.

'Mr Robert Wood, the Gaumont manager, said bookings for the other operas in the week commencing October 24 are “coming on very well.”   There are seats available yet in stalls and circle for all operas except Butterfly.

'Anna Pollak will appear as Queen Elizabeth in Merrie England (Monday and Saturday evenings) with John Hargreaves as the Earl of Essex and John Carolan as Sir Walter Raleigh.'


Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Friday, October 21, 1960

 'The performance of Andrea Chénier, to be given in Dundee at the Gaumont Theatre next Friday by the Sadler’s Wells Opera, will be a special occasion for music lovers.   It is a curio of Italian opera which may never be heard again outside London.  Very few people in this country had ever heard Andrea Chénier until the Wells revived it.

'The opera recreates the dramatic music and visual scene of the France of the Revolution.  The story is built round the lives and destinies of three leading characters - the poet Andrea Chénier, the nobly born Madeleine de Coigny and the revolutionary leader Gérard, who was formerly a servant in Madeleine’s family.

'The composer was Umberto Giordano, Italian maestro of the operatic creations, who developed his art in the period of operatic melodrama associated with contemporaries Mascagni and Puccini.   He had an exuberant gift of melody and strong feeling for dramatic effect.  Chénier was produced in the same year as Puccini’s La Bohème (1896).

'Soprano Ava June will be heard in the Dundee performance as Madeleine.   She was a dress-maker after leaving school and sang with dance bands.   She had operatic ambitions and spent all her spare cash on lessons.   Three years ago she stepped up from the Wells chorus into principal roles.   Miss June has the unusual hobby of collecting horse brasses, of which she now has 150.


Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Monday, October 24, 1960

Sadler’s Wells back in Dundee

(Captioned photograph of John Heddle Nash and Kevin Miller in The Barber of Seville)

'Photograph shows a scene from the new Sadler’s Wells Opera production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville which will be given at the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee, on Wednesday evening and Saturday afternoon.

'John Heddle Nash (baritone) is the son of Heddle Nash, the famous tenor.   The former made a great impression as Figaro when he appeared previously in Dundee with the Carl Rosa Company.

'The opera company arrived in Dundee yesterday in the early afternoon from Glasgow by special train for the week at the Gaumont Theatre.   Four coaches carried 150 principals, chorus, orchestra and staff.  Seven waggons were filled with 175 tons of scenery.  The baggage party was augmented by 17 Dundee men when the lorries arrived from the station.'


The Glasgow cast is from a programme in the Opera Scotland collection.  That for the Dundee performances is recorded in a programme in the ENO archive. 

Performance Cast

May Queen

Suzanne Steele

Butcher a Merchant of Windsor

Stanley Bevan

Baker a Merchant of Windsor

Basil Hemming

Tinker a Merchant of Windsor

Peter Tracey

Tailor a Merchant of Windsor

John Fryatt

Long Tom a Royal Forester

Eric Stannard

Big Ben a Royal Forester

Lawrence Folley

Jill-all-alone a forest-dweller, believed to be a witch

Ann Robson (Exc Oct 22 m)

Patricia Kern (Oct 22 m)

Guard Captain

Peter Firman

Earl of Essex

John Hargreaves

Francis Bacon

Graham Curnow

Sir Walter Raleigh

John Carolan

Walter Wilkins a London actor

John Holmes (Exc Oct 29)

Denis Dowling (Oct 29)

Silas Simkins a London actor

Alfred Oldridge

Third Actor

Carl Abrahamson

Fourth Actor

Bryan Clifford

Fifth Actor

Paul Janssen

Sixth Actor

Arthur Thelwell

Bessie Throckmorton lady-in-waiting to the Queen

Anne Edwards (Exc Oct 29)

Joan Stuart (Oct 29)

Dr Roderigo Lopez the Queen's Physician

Arthur Gomez

Queen Elizabeth

Anna Pollak

Performance DatesMerrie England 1960

Map List

Empire Theatre, Glasgow | Glasgow

19 Oct, 19.30 22 Oct, 14.30

Gaumont Theatre | Dundee

24 Oct, 19.30 29 Oct, 19.30

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