Opera Scotland

Hansel and Gretel 1926British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Hansel and Gretel

Humperdinck's masterpiece was the first opera to have a live UK radio broadcast (from Covent Garden in 1923), so it was not surprising that BNOC would take that production round the country soon after.

It was not yet considered to make a full evening in the theatre, so a curtain-raiser was tried - a new ballet - a version of Mozart's Les Petits Riens, with choreography by Penelope Spencer.

Cast details for 29 October are from a programme in the Edinburgh Room of Edinburgh City Library.


A Glasgow Verdict

The Glasgow Herald of Monday, 4 October (p11) reviewed the Saturday evening Tales of Hoffmann as well as the matinee performance of Hansel and Gretel, preceded by Les Petits Riens:

'If Hansel and Gretel does not hold the record for number of performances among the productions of the British National Opera Company it must come very near the top. It has always had a place of special favour among opera-goers of all ages, and when it was given for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, a large audience attended.  Many children were present, accompanied, of course, by grown-ups, and it was noticeable that the adult escort were often numerically quite impressively strong. (In one case that came under observation it was evidently felt that the salvation of two children required the attendance of four grown-ups). This is quite as it should be, for there is something for everybody in Hansel and Gretel, and the production by the BNOC has always been among their best.

'The company have always been happy in their choice of players and singers to impersonate the two children. Much is heard in public, and more still in private, regarding the unfortunate necessity for casting an opera according to vocal range and quality, rather than height, breadth, or other physical attributes.  Hansel and Gretel may proudly boast that in this respect it must not be tampered with.  Those who present the two children must look and sound like children, and if an appropriate pair cannot be found the production may as well be postponed till they can; for it is an interesting fact that the operatic frame of mind, which is really make-believe raised to a high power, refuses to function when it is a case of presenting children on the stage.

'On Saturday afternoon. this faculty was not called upon for exercise. The two children were delightfully real to both eye and ear, and all they did had the charm of something spontaneously done. This is all the more praiseworthy whem it is remembered that Miss Kathlyn Hilliard was making her début in the part at this performance. Nothing nicer could be said of her work on this occasion than that it was a worthy counterpart to Miss Doris Lemon's Hansel, which it was a great pleasure to hear and see again after a considerable interval. Miss Hilliard on several occasions during the performance suggested very skilfully that girls of the fairy-tale period are always a little wiser, riper, and gentler than boys, even while they romp; and this little subtlety of characterisation added to the enjoyment of both performances.

'Mr Philip Bertram and Miss Eda Bennie were good as the father and mother, and the Witch of Miss Constance Willis was all that could be desired.  Her broomstick dance makes her easily first among the dancing witches known to Glasgow, quite apart from the ''added attraction'' of a small corps de ballet of little witches, who were a new feature in this part of the production. In other respects the staging and ''business'' were all much as before.  The second scene was once more beautifully designed and controlled, while the black cat with one green and one red eye provided the usual merriment from the rok of the witch's house.

'Mr Clarence Raybould, who conducted, did not secure anything much more interesting than good general results from the orchestra, which was also allowed to be much too full in tone on many occasions. Practically the whole of the last act sounded big and noisy, and this destroyed very largely the special atmosphere of the opera.  More regard should be had throughout for the fairy-like, child-like, quality of this work, which requires its own scale of expression, even in fortissimo.  On Saturday afternoon the climax at the close of the scene of the angels was specially out of scale, the brasses playing roughly and with a semi-staccato effect altogether suggestive of an exceiting scene from Wagner, and certainly not illuminating for the audience, the thoughts and emotions of the two sleeping children, or the fourteen guardian angels.

'A new ballet founded on Mozart's Les Petits Riens made a most appropriate companion number to Humperdinck's opera.  The scene is laid in the ground of a French chateau on the occasion of a fête given in honour of the daughter of the Baron, and the setting and circumstances give great opportunity for lovely costumes, charming dancing, and some humour. The choreography had been cleverly devised by Miss Penelope Spencer to furnish a close and graceful parallel to the grace and vivacity of Mozart's music, and as the corps de ballet, with Miss Olive Joyner as the Baron's daughter, and further assisted by some mebers of the opera did their part well, the result was altogether enjoyable.'


Another Glasgow Verdict

The Glasgow Herald of Thursday, 14 October reviewed the previous evening's performance of Hansel and Gretel, as well as the matinee of Romeo and Juliet.

'Two repeat performances were given yesterday by the British National Opera Company at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow.

'Every seat was occupied for the evening performance of Hansel and Gretel,  which was presented by the same cast as appeared in it ten days ago with the exception of Mr William Michael, who took the part of the father on this occasion.  Last night's performance was in some matters of detail an advance on the other.  The two children played by Miss Doris Lemon and Miss Kathlyn Hilliard, were more delightful than ever, both interpretations having been enriched since the previous production by many little touches well conceived and spontaneously carried out.  Or perhaps some of them were merely spontaneously carried out.  In any case, the effect was excellent.

'By way of illustration may be mentioned the sleepy singing of the evening prayer, which is so appropriate just after a visit from the sandman.  In the first scene, also, the children managed to have a specially jolly time without any sacrifice of the musical values.  Miss Constance Willis seemed more amusing even than before as the witch, but her cat was indisposed in its green eye, which flickered only faintly.  The dance of witches was again most effective.

'Mr Aylmer Buesst, who conducted, secured an interesting performance of the orchestral work, ''laying out'' the overture well and controlling his forces with considerable success.  The music accompanying the vision of the angels had on this occasion very much of the appropriate solemnity and grandeur, and in many other respects the playing of the orchestra showed an improvement.

'The opera was preceded, as on the former occasion, by the attractive new ballet based on Mozart's Les Petits Riens.'


In Edinburgh

The Scotsman reviewed all three elements of the Wednesday performances on Thursday, 21 October (p6)

'Two performances at the King's Theatre yesterday provided a strikingly varied array of music.  In the afternoon Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel was prefaced by Mozart's charming little ballet Les Petits Riens; at night there was Verdi's Othello.  The Mozart music has been heard before in Edinburgh, at one of the Paterson orchestral concerts, but yesterday was its first presentation here on the stage.  Briefly, it deals with a fête given in the grounds of a French country house, in the 18th century, with the entertainment consisting of a number of dances, temporarily interrupted by a practical joke on the part of two young neighbours, who thrust monstrous heads through the foliage surrounding the lawn.  As the host of the occasion, Baron Baudet, that versatile artist Mr Sydney Russell, displayed a clever command of pantomime, as did also Miss Mary Russell as the Baronne.  Miss Olive Joyner as their daughter Jacinthe, Miss Evelyn Clare as a young gallant, the Misses Betty Pryde and Maude Stevens as two eccentric elderly ladies, with an amusing dance, and the Misses Gladys Balcombe and Kathleen Anderson as two very diverting little negro pages, were all exceedingly artistic.  The ballet was very daintily staged.

'Humperdinck has been called the ''children's Wagner'', and yesterday afternoon's audience included quite a large number of children, who were obviously deeply interested in the fairy tale set to music which they could understand, while, as in the case of the artistic gift-books for children issued at Christmas, their elders were there to appreciate the fine qualities which the children missed.

'Mr Philip Bertram and Miss Eda Bennie were excellent as the parents, while as the two children, Miss Doris Lemon as Hansel ans miss Kathlyn Hilliard as Gretel were remarkably convincing.  They sang the delightful music with just the right ingenuousness, and their acting was always in keeping.  Miss Constance Willis as the witch entered into the part very thoroughly, and Miss Frances Frost as the Sleep Fairy, and miss Gwyneth Edwards as the Dawn Fairy, were also good.

'Mr Aylmer Buesst conducted, and the performance as a whole displayed a beautiful finish.'


BNOC in Scotland 1926

The company spent three weeks in Glasgow and two in Edinburgh - 1927 would see them venturing further north.  Wagner and Puccini led the field, with four operas each.  There were a total of four works by three composers of the French school.  Verdi was represented by one middle-period and two late masterpieces.  Notably there were two recently composed British works - something BNOC would never achieve again.

The 20 operas performed in Scotland on this tour were:

Mozart (Marriage of Figaro);  Wagner (Tannhäuser Tristan and IsoldeMastersingers,  Parsifal);  Verdi (Rigoletto,  Aïda,  Otello);  Gounod (Faust,  Romeo and Juliet);  Offenbach (Tales of Hoffmann);  Bizet (Carmen);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);  Puccini (Bohème ToscaMadam Butterfly,  Gianni Schicchi);  Humperdinck (Hansel and Gretel);  Vaughan Williams (Hugh the Drover);  Bryson (Leper's Flute).


The performance schedule was as follows:

Glasgow, w/c 27 September:  Mon 27  Aïda;  Tue 28  Carmen;  Wed 29 m Faust;  Wed 29 e Madam Butterfly;  Thu 30  Parsifal;  Fri Oct 01  Tosca;  Sat 02 m  Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 02 e  Tales of Hoffmann.

Glasgow, w/c 04 October:  Mon 04 Romeo and Juliet;  Tue 05 Otello;  Wed 06 m  No Perf;  Wed 06 e Bohème;  Thu 07 Marriage of Figaro;  Fri 08 Mastersingers;  Sat 09 m Aïda;  Sat 09 e Rigoletto.

Glasgow, w/c 11 October:  Mon 11 Parsifal;  Tue 12  Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci; Wed 13 m Romeo and Juliet;  Wed 13 e Hansel and Gretel;  Thu 14  Tristan and Isolde;  Fri 15 Leper's Flute;  Sat 16 m Madam Butterfly;  Sat 16 e Tannhäuser.

Edinburgh, w/c 18 October:  Mon 18 Romeo and Juliet;  Tue 19 Leper's Flute;  Wed 20 m Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 20 e  Otello;  Thu 21  Parsifal;  Fri 22  Aïda;  Sat 23 m Hugh the Drover;  Sat 23 e Tannhäuser.

Edinburgh, w/c 25 October:  Mon 25 Rigoletto;  Tue 26 Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci;  Wed 27 m Madam Butterfly;  Wed 27 e Tosca;  Thu 28 Tristan and Isolde;  Fri 29 Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 30 m Parsifal;  Sat 30 e Bohème.

Performance Cast


Doris Lemon (Oct 02 m, 20 m, 29)


Kathlyn Hilliard (Oct 02 m, 20 m, 29)

Gertrude mother of Hansel and Gretel

Eda Bennie (Oct 02 m, 20 m)

May Blyth (Oct 29)

Peter a broom maker and father of Hansel and Gretel

Philip Bertram (Oct 02 m, 20 m, 29)


Frances Frost (Oct 20 m, 29)

Dew Fairy

Gwyneth Edwards (Oct 20 m, 29)


Constance Willis (Oct 02 m, 20 m, 29)

Performance DatesHansel and Gretel 1926

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

2 Oct, 14.00 13 Oct, 19.30

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

20 Oct, 14.00 29 Oct, 19.30

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