Opera Scotland

Barbiere di Siviglia 1929Covent Garden Opera

Read more about the opera Barber of Seville

The first tour by the new Covent Garden Opera Syndicate opened in Halifax before moving to Aberdeen. The  week's repertoire consisted of - Monday Mastersingers;  Tuesday Barber of Seville;  Wednesday Bohème;  Thursday Falstaff;  Friday Turandot;  Saturday matinee Faust;  Saturday evening Madam Butterfly.  The last two were conducted by Eugene Goossens, all the previous evenings by John Barbirolli. 

The principal novelty of the repertoire was the new Turandot, receiving its Scottish premiere.  Other items, such as this Tuesday evening Barber, were essentially lifted unchanged from the old BNOC repertoire.  The only major role to have been recast was that of Don Basilio.  The others had appeared in the same parts for the previous two years, including the conductor.

The programme makes it clear that Rosina's aria in the Lesson Scene would not be the piece composed by Rossini, 'Contro un cor', but a bravura display piece for coloratura soprano, Adam's Variations on 'Ah! vous dirai-je maman', itself derived from Mozart's setting.   This is more familiar to English-speaking audiences as 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star'.  It is interesting that in Edinburgh the substitution was another showpiece from Auber's Manon Lescaut.

To modern ears it seems strange that up until the late twenties the Barber had been performed with spoken dialogue.  While we now expect the recitative as a matter of course, we nowadays are used to a harpsichord or fortepiano rather than the pianoforte used here.

The company moved on to Glasgow, then Edinburgh.

Cast details for 1 October are from OperaScotland's copy of the Aberdeen programme.  Addtions for Edinburgh are from the Scotsman review.


The Edinburgh reviewer's opinion

The Scotsman of Tuesday, 22 October (p9) was highly enthusiastic about the Edinburgh performance:

'Whatever the fortunes of the venture may prove to be,  the advent of the Covent Garden Opera Syndicate in the provinces has brought a new and very important factor into our undoubtedly troubled operatic situation.  As it affects the public it amounts to another chance to make opera in the provinces a success, for in the long run, whether touring opera, whatever its scale of operations,  succeeds or fails,  rests entirely with the public.

'Sir Thomas Beecham,  in his present campaign,  has perhaps rendered no more important service to the cause of opera than hammering this fact home: that if people want opera they mustbe prepared to pay for it.  In this connection it may be said that the Covent Garden Opera Syndicate are offering something which is worth paying for.

'Last night's performance of Rossini's comic masterpiece had been awaited with considerable curiosity as supplying an indication of how things were going to be done under Covent Garden auspices.  Most of the singers, in the opera, it is true,  were well known from the British National Opera connection, and Mr Barbirolli had conducted the opera in Edinburgh before.  Opera, however, is a matter of many constituent elements, singers,  orchestra,  style of performance,  scenery,  dresses.  In all these respects last night's performance satisfied the most sanguine expectations.

'There is a legend, which, like a good many other legends owes its vitality mainly to unthinking repetition, that The Barber of Seville survives chiefly as a means of allowing a prima donna to disport herself in the ''Lesson'' scene:  This may have been the case at one time when some very extraordinary interpolatd solos found their way into this scene.  Nowadays, however, while Rosina still indulges her fancy with some favourite display of vocal pyrotechnics, the ''Lesson'' scene has assumed its true proportions in the opera, and the comedy proceeds from one absurd situation to another, illuminated by music which is always droll, but which is nevertheless still a commentary upon one of the best operatic libretti in existence.

'The performance was delightful throughout.  The music of the Count is almost fantastically difficult in its floridity, which suggests the embellishments dear to the coloratura soprano.  It was sung by Mr Heddle Nash as perhaps no other tenor in this country could sing it, while Mr Nash's acting was lively and convincing.  Miss Noël Eadie made a lively Rosina, and Auber's ''Laughing Song'' , introduced in the ''Lesson'' scene, and very well in keeping with the opera, was charmingly sung.

'The Marcellina of Miss Gladys Parr, a rôle in which she has been heard here before, was a finished litle piece of comedy, while the the one song allotted to the character was given with an admirable combination of humour and grace.  The Figaro of Mr William Michael, and the Dr Bartolo of Mr Percy Heming, are familiar impersonations.  Last night they were repeated with the customary rich humour and vocal effect.

'A new Don Basilio, Mr Fernando Autori, was a striking success.  Mr Autori has a magnificent bass voice, and while his reading of the part is in the farcical tradition, there is a bizarre quality in it which gives the farce a new point.  His make-up was a wonderful piece of stage art.  Mr Autori's Basilio was at once comic and sinister.

'The Barber is, however, beyond all things, a matter of brisk ensembles, and here Mr Barbirolli shone in his deft treatment of the situation on the stage,  and of the orchestra.  An unfamiliar but very interesting feature of last night's performance was the restoration of the recitatives instead of dialogue and their accompaniment by a pianoforte.

'The opera was beautifully mounted, and the two scenes, the street, and the room in Bartolo's house, were excellent stage pictures.  There was an enthusiastic audience, and there were many recalls.

Performance Cast

Fiorello servant of the Count

Arsène Kirillov (Oct 1)

Count Almaviva

Heddle Nash (Oct 1, 21)

Figaro a barber

Dennis Noble (Oct 1)

William Michael (Oct 21)

Rosina Bartolo's ward

Noël Eadie (Oct 1, 21)

Bartolo a doctor, Rosina's guardian

Percy Heming (Oct 1, 21)

Don Basilio a singing teacher

Fernando Autori (Oct 1, 21)

Berta Bartolo's housekeeper

Gladys Parr (Oct 1, 21)


Arsène Kirillov (Oct 1)


Albert Cornish (Oct 1)

Performance DatesBarbiere di Siviglia 1929

Map List

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

1 Oct, 19.30

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

17 Oct, 19.15

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

21 Oct, 19.15

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