Opera Scotland

Eve of St John 1924British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Eve of St John

Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the greatest Scottish composer of his generation, was now very much an elder statesman of the musical world, but still willing to try his luck at opera. This short piece was launched in a double-bill with a further performance of another recent British work, The Perfect Fool, by Holst. Neither work made any lasting impression, though the Holst got a more positive reception at the time.

Mackenzie (1847-1935) was a native of Edinburgh, where his father led the theatre orchestra for many years.

It perhaps seems strange that the only Scottish performance of The Eve of St John was in Glasgow. But Mackenzie had been sent to study in Germany at the age of twelve and never lived in Scotland thereafter, so may have had little connection with the capital by the twenties.

Cast details are from a programme in the Mitchell Library.


The Critical Response

The Glasgow Herald critic on Friday, 21 October (p10) reviewed The Eve of St John with rather less enthusiasm than he summoned up for the second element of the evening, The Perfect Fool, by Gustav Holst. Half his space is devoted to a preview of that evening's Scottish premiere of Hugh the Drover:

'The programme at the Theatre-Royal, Glasgow last evening comprised two British operas well contrasted in style and intention, and still more strongly contrasted in achievement.

The first of these was Sir Alexander Mackenzie's The Eve of St John, which was being done for the first time in Glasgow. It is based on a very slight subject, though one that seems well adapted for a musical setting, but the librettist, Miss Eleanor Farjeon, has developed it at too great a length, and Sir Alexander, in writing the music, has tended, on various occasions, to prolong the idea still further by the adoption of too leisurely a method.

'This is particularly felt in regard to the dialogue portions of the text, which often lose all vitality by reason of their measured delivery.  Even the dry humour of Tim the Tinker, which admits of some deliberation in the utterance, was sometimes too slow in pace, and the audience were kept waiting for the end of a sentence which they had already guessed.

'The music shows the hand of the practised craftsman, and while some of it expresses very agreeably the special atmosphere of the little fantasy, much of it has no inevitable connection with the fairy kingdom, and would not suggest the presence on the stage of Dryads, Naiads, Sprites, and Fauns, to any stranger coming to listen with his eyes shut. This lack of atmosphere is particularly felt in the fairy ballet music, where one would have thought a composer would find success more easily than in the other parts of the work. In a word, the music on the whole lacks imagination.

'The performance was very good.  Mr Walter Hyde as Dan, the poacher, and Mr William Michael, as Tim, the tinker, made the most of their parts, the latter being specially commendable for the easy and pointed delivery of his humorous sallies. 

As the fairies, Miss Doris Lemon (Sylvana) and Miss Muriel Brunskill (Sabrina) were altogether captivating, and offered a clever performance. The rich quality of Miss Brunskill's voice gave one a new idea regarding vocal standards in the watery kingdom of the Naiads.

'The ballet danced well. They were as graceful as ever, but did not seem to be quite so sure as usual of time and place in some of their evolutions. Perhaps the witching power of the elder-blossom had got into their blood.

'The opera was beautifully staged, the costumes were lovely, and the lighting and productin excellent.'


BNOC's 1924 Scottish tour

The BNOC tour of Scotland in 1924 lasted five weeks - two in Edinburgh (King's) then three in Glasgow (Theatre Royal).

Amazingly, four operas by British composers were toured, as well as four French, though only one by Verdi. As usual, Wagner and Puccini seem to enjoy undying popularity. One Russian piece also puts in an appearance.

A total of 19 works were performed:

Mozart (Marriage of Figaro,  Magic Flute);   Wagner (Tannhäuser,  MastersingersSiegfried);  Verdi (Aïda);  Gounod (Faust);  Offenbach (Tales of Hoffmann);  Bizet (Carmen);  Rimsky-Korsakov (Golden Cockerel);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);   Puccini (BohèmeMadam ButterflyGianni Schicchi);  Debussy (Pelléas and Mélisande);  Mackenzie (Eve of St John);  Vaughan Williams (Hugh the Drover);  Holst (Perfect Fool);  Boughton (Alkestis).

The performance schedule is as follows:

Edinburgh,  w/c 27 October:  Mon 27 Marriage of Figaro;  Tue 28 Carmen;  Wed 29 mat Madam Butterfly;  Wed 29 eve Hugh the Drover:  Thu 30 Perfect Fool & Gianni Schicchi;  Fri 31 Siegfried;  Sat 01 mat  Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 01 eve Tales of Hoffmann.

Edinburgh, w/c 3 November:  Mon 03 Golden Cockerel;  Tue 04 Pelléas et Mélisande;  Wed 05 mat  Magic Flute;  Wed 05 eve Tannhäuser;  Thu 06 Mastersingers;  Fri 07 Alkestis;  Sat 08 mat  Hugh the Drover;  Sat 08 eve  Aïda.

Glasgow, w/c 10 November:  Mon 10 Carmen;  Tue 11 Mastersingers;  Wed 12 mat Alkestis;  Wed 12 eve  Tales of Hoffmann;  Thu 13 Magic Flute;  Fri 14  Golden Cockerel;  Sat 15 mat Aïda;  Sat 15 eve Marriage of Figaro.

Glasgow, w/c 17 November:  Mon 17 Tales of Hoffmann;  Tue 18 Bohème;  Wed 19 mat  Magic Flute;  Med 19 eve  Aïda;  Thu 20 Eve of St John & Perfect Fool;  Fri 21 Hugh the Drover;  Sat 22 mat Gianni Schicchi  Pagliacci;  Sat 22 eve Tannhäuser.

Glasgow, w/c 24 November:  Mon 24 Marriage of Figaro;  Tue 25  Faust;  Wed 26 mat Golden Cockerel;  Wed 26 eve Magic Flute;  Thu 27 Hugh the Drover;  Fri 28  Carmen;  Sat 29 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 29 eve Mastersingers.

Performance Cast

Dan a poacher

Walter Hyde (Nov 20)

Tim a tinker

William Michael (Nov 20)

Sylvana a dryad

Doris Lemon (Nov 20)

Sabrina a naiad

Muriel Brunskill (Nov 20)

Production Cast


Malcolm Sargent (Nov 20)


George King

Performance DatesEve of St John 1924

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

20 Nov, 19.30

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