Opera Scotland

Parsifal 1922British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Parsifal

The BNOC was established after the collapse of Sir Thomas Beecham's opera company, and immediately began to tour with an ambitious programme.

Clearly the BNOC management were expecting that Scottish opera lovers would, at the very least show approval for the company's efforts by attending at least one of the four Edinburgh performances, or the single one in Glasgow.

Parsifal was little known outside London, and this was its first performance in Scotland.  Walter Hyde, Norman Allin and Gladys Ancrum would be among the leading British Wagnerian performers during the next decade.

Perhaps the most astonishing and impressive feature of these performances is the fact that the company was able to field two casts in the major roles at different times of the year.  Only Norman Allin seems not to have had an alternate, though Robert Radford or William Anderson may have been used elsewhere.

In this cast we have listed the Flower Maidens in sequence according to the Autumn review.  However it is likely that company principals such as Sarah Fischer (already singing Eva), Doris Lemon and May Blyth would have taken the leading roles.

The fact that the performance began at 6.00pm (1:00 for matinees) and lasted four and a half hours indicates that the work was treated with appropriate seriousness, without substantial cuts (which often used to disfigure some performances of longish operas).


An Edinburgh Review

The Scotsman of Wednesday, 8 March (p8) is extremely enthusiastic, indeed it is difficult to imagine anyone being more so:

'It may fairly be said that no such triumph of operatic art has been witnessed in Edinburgh as last night's performance of Parsifal at the King's Theatre, the first to be given in Edinburgh.  Wagner's last opera presents tremendous difficulties, alike to singers, instrumentalists and producer.

'The very nature of the plot, with its daring employment of religious symbolism, confronts the producer with problems which might well be considered impossible of solution under normal theatrical c9nditions.  The least hint of the conventionally theatrical, indeed, would be fatal to the impression which the opera is designed to produce.

'Nevertheless it is with the materials of the theatre - scenery, dresses, make-up, and the limelight - that the producer must work, while the artists have to deal with the most profound and sacred emotions of human nature.  Until the expiry of the copyright placed matters beyond their control, the powers at Bayreuth jealously reserved Parsifal for performance under their own direction, as affording the only conditions under which the work could with any possibility be adequately performed, and there was much to be said in support of their view.

'Theatrical art, however, has made great strides since Parsifal was first produced, and what might not have been possible forty years ago is certainly possible today.  A performance of Parsifal must move in an atmosphere of mysticism and reverence, and in this respect last night's performance by artists of the British National Opera Company satisfied every demand.  From beginning to end there was not a jarring note.  It was an extraordinarily impressive experience.

'The world has long since made up its mind as to Parsifal, the merits of its music, and the points of debate which Wagner's choice of a subject presents.  Even those who are disposed to question the suitability of the story of the Grail, the chalice of the Last Supper, according to the Arthurian legends, as a subject for presentation on the stage, are probably ready to admit that Wagner's treatment, although daring, is reverent, while as to the poignant charm of the music there is only one opinion.

'Last night everything contributed to giving what was an almost ideal rendering of the work.  Mr Walter Hyde's Parsifal was strikingly artistic.  In the first act the character is one which is almost impossible of performance by an adult, but the charm of the impersonation in the third act was something exquisite.  Throughout it is an unreal character, and Mr Hyde invested it with just that suggestion of the ethereal which it requires.

'Mr Norman Allin gave a magnificent impersonation of the rugged, yet pitiful, old Knight of the Grail, Gurnemanz.  This is one of Wagner's fine studies of human nature, not quite so good, perhaps as that other picture of simple faithfulness, the squire, Kurwenal, in Tristan and Isolde, but belonging to the same category.

'Mr Herbert Heyner as the tragic Amfortas was an impressive figure, and the Klingsor of Mr Frederic Collier presented an eminently satisfactory conception of the character.  Mr Philip Bertram as Titurel and Messrs Ernest Howie and Raymond Ellis as the two Knights of the Grail, worthily completed the cast of male principals.

'Miss Gladys Ancrum's Kundry was a really wonderful performance.  From the demoniac of the first act to the siren of the flower garden scene, and the penitent of the third act,  the character covers a wide range of sentiment, and Miss Ancrum was fully equal to every demand which it made,  It has only been very seldom that acting and singing conveying so genuine a  thrill have been experienced in opera in Edinburgh.

'But it is by its general effect that a performance of Parsifal stands or falls.  and it was here last night that everything was so satisfactory.  The scenery was simple, yet it fulfilled every requirement.  The opening scene was a beautiful stage picture, and the Hall of the Grail afforded an adequate suggestion of splendour and mystery.

The flower garden scene was delicately fantastic, and the problem of introducing the flower maidens, whom Wagner wished to see emerge from flowers,  was solved by an avoidance of any attempt to achieve impossibilities.  Wisely, too, in the first act there was no resort to moving scenery to illustrate the passage of Gurnemanz and Parsifal from the forest to the Castle of the Grail.  The curtain was lowered during the music designed to accompany the unfolding of the panorama and the rest left to the imagination.

'Mr Percy Pitt conducted, and under his direction the orchestra acquitted itself brilliantly.  Beginning at six, and lasting for practically four hours and a half, the performance conveyed no suggestion of being of such a length, for throughout attention was riveted on the scene.  There was a crowded audience, the hushed intensity of which was an eloquent tribute to the splendid work of conductor, singers, and orchestra,'


Edinburgh in Autumn

The Scotsman of Monday, 4 December (p6) commented on the final Saturday of the Scottish season, with a matinee of Parsifal:

'To whatever further excellences the artists of the British National Opera Company may advance, their production of Parsifal must assuredly always remain one of their greatest triumphs, if not, indeed, the greatest of them all.  On Saturday afternoon the work was given for the only time during the Company's season in Edinburgh, which has just ended, and the impression which the performance created was as profound as in the spring.

'It is not only that the work is adequately placed upon the stage, that it is sung and acted well, that there is an orchestra which is completely satisfactory, and that the performance progresses in a series of beautiful stage pictures.  Over and above all there is an atmosphere which, in the midst of what is necessarily and essentially theatrical, obliterates all sense of the theatre.

'At one of the three performances of Parsifal in March, Mr William Boland was in the title role, Mr Walter Hyde appearing in the character on the other occasions.  On Saturday Mr Boland was again the Parsifal, but with the exception of Mr Norman Allin as Gurnemanz, the cast was different.  Mr Robert Parker was Amfortas,  Mr Philip Bertram Titurel,  Mr Frederic Collier Klingsor,  and Miss Phyllis Archibald Kundry.

'As the two Knights of the Grail, Messrs Kenneth Sterne and Hugh Mills;  the Misses Florence Evelyn and Florence Foote, and Messrs Frederic Rickitts and Joseph Heaps as the Esquires;  and the Misses Gertrude Boxall, Florence Ayre, Doris Lemon, Frances Alardy, Sarah Fischer, and May Blyth as the Flower Maidens, were all in perfect keeping.

'The orchestra was also very good, although occasionally there was a slight roughness, which recalled the fact that night after night of difficult operas is bound to produce its effect by the time the end of the week is reached.  It was a falling-off, however, such as it was, that in another orchestra would probably not have been noticed.

'Mr Boland as Parsifal gave a masterly rendering of a part which makes almost impossible demands upon an artist, and nothing could have been finer than the contrast between the mysterious youth, and the rich rugged humanity of Mr Allin's Gurnemanz.  The Amfortas if Mr Robert Parker was another fine conception, and Miss Phyllis Archibald's Kundry revealed excellent accomplishment in one of the greatest and most difficult rôles in opera.  Mr Frederic Collier's Klingsor was also good.

'It is in the complete fusion of all the elements in the drama, musical and scenic, that the hope of Parsifal lies, and that in the National Opera rendering they do fuse so perfectly is proof of its excellence. Throughout there was a solemn beauty in which there was not one jarring note.  Mr Aylmer Buesst conducted, and the theatre was packed with a silent audience far removed from all thought of applause.'


BNOC in Scotland - 1922 (Spring and Autumn)

This first season saw BNOC coming to Scotland twice. The spring visit, in March, consisted of three weeks in Edinburgh (King's Theatre).  In the autumn there were four weeks - two at Glasgow Theatre Royal, and two more in Edinburgh.

A total number of nineteen operas were included  - an astonishing number for a newly established company.  Wagner far outweighs any other composers, most notably Verdi:

They were by Mozart (Magic Flute);  Wagner (Tannhäuser,  Tristan and Isolde,   MastersingersValkyrieSiegfriedParsifal);  Verdi (Aïda);  Saint-Saêns (Samson and Delilah);  Gounod (Faust);  Offenbach (Goldsmith of Toledo);  Bizet (Carmen);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);  Puccini (BohèmeToscaMadam Butterfly); Debussy (Prodigal Son);   Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana);  Charpentier (Louise).

The schedule was as follows:


Edinburgh, w/c 6 March:  Mon 6 Aida;  Tue 7 Parsifal;  Wed 8 mat Cav & Pag;  Wed 8 eve Tannhäuser; Thu 9 Carmen;  Fri 10 Samson and Delilah;  Sat 11 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 11 eve Faust.

Edinburgh, w/c 13 March:  Mon 13 Mastersingers;  Tue 14 Magic Flute;  Wed 15 mat Samson and Delilah;  Wed 15 eve Carmen; Thu 16 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Fri 17 Madam Butterfly;  Sat 18 mat Bohème;  Sat 18 eve Aïda.

Edinburgh, w/c 20 March:  Mon 20 Parsifal;  Tue 21 Samson and Delilah;  Wed 22 mat Parsifal;  Wed 22 eve Bohème; Thu 23 Mastersingers;  Fri 24 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Sat 25 mat Aïda;  Sat 25 eve Carmen.


Glasgow, w/c 6 November:  Mon 6 Parsifal;  Tue 7 Magic Flute;  Wed 8 mat Tosca;  Wed 8 eve Faust;  Thu 9 Louise;  Fri 10 Samson and Delilah;  Sat 11 mat Bohème;  Sat 11 eve Prodigal Son & Pagliacci.

Glasgow, w/c 13 November:  Mon 13 Aïda;  Tue 14 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Wed 15 mat Parsifal;  Wed 15 eve Magic Flute; Thu 16 Mastersingers;  Fri 17 Louise;  Sat 18 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 18 eve Faust.

Edinburgh, w/c 20 November:  Mon 20 Magic Flute;  Tue 21 Valkyrie;  Wed 22 mat Bohème;  Wed 22 eve Samson and Delilah; Thu 23 Aïda;  Fri 24 Louise;  Sat 25 mat Faust;  Sat 25 eve Tosca.

Edinburgh, w/c 27 November:  Mon 27 Siegfried;  Tue 28 Tristan and Isolde;  Wed 29 mat Magic Flute;  Wed 29 eve Goldsmith of Toledo; Thu 30 Louise;  Fri 1 Dec Bohème;  Sat 2 mat Parsifal;  Sat 2 eve Samson and Delilah.

Performance Cast

Gurnemanz a veteran Knight

Norman Allin (Mar 7; Dec 2 m))

First Squire

Florence Evelyn (Dec 2 m)

Second Squire

Florence Foote (Dec 2 m)

Third Squire

Frederic Rickitt (Dec 2 m)

Fourth Squire

Joseph Heaps (Dec 2 m)

First Grail Knight

Ernest Howie (Mar 7)

Kenneth Sterne (Dec 2 m)

Second Grail Knight

Raymond Ellis (Mar 7)

Hugh Mills (Dec 2 m)

Kundry a woman in Klingsor's power

Gladys Ancrum (Mar 7)

Phyllis Archibald (Dec 2 m)

Amfortas Guardian of the Grail

Herbert Heyner (Mar 7)

Robert Parker (Dec 2 m)

Parsifal a youth

Walter Hyde (Mar 7)

William Boland (Dec 2 m)

Titurel Amfortas' father, former Guardian

Philip Bertram (Mar 7; Dec 2 m)

Klingsor a magician

Frederic Collier (Mar 7; Dec 2 m)

First Flower Maiden

Gertrude Boxall (Dec 2 m)

Second Flower Maiden

Florence Ayre (Dec 2 m)

Third Flower Maiden

Doris Lemon (Dec 2 m)

Fourth Flower Maiden

Frances Alardy (Dec 2 m)

Fifth Flower Maiden

Sarah Fischer (Dec 2 m)

Sixth Flower Maiden

May Blyth (Dec 2 m)

Performance DatesParsifal 1922

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

7 Mar, 18.00 20 Mar, 18.00 22 Mar, 13.00 2 Dec, 13.00

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

6 Nov, 18.00 15 Nov, 13.00

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