Opera Scotland

Parsifal 1926British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Parsifal

BNOC had brought Parsifal north in 1922, their opening season, having inherited the sets and costumes from the defunct Beecham company.  Here most of the same cast re-assembled for four performances - two in each city. including an early matinee on the final Saturday in Edinburgh.

Dr (not yet Sir) Adrian Boult was at this stage in charge of the Birmingham orchestra, and would move to the BBC Symphony in 1930.  After his controversial compulsory retirement at 60 he was taken up by the London Philharmonic.  Boult continued to conduct major British orchestras until shortly before his death, though he did not present much opera.

Complete cast details for the final performance on 30 October (an afternoon performance starting at 1.20) are from a programme in the Edinburgh Room of Edinburgh City Library.


An Edinburgh report on the Glasgow performance

There was a Glasgow performance on Thursday, 30 September, reviewed in the Scotsman for Friday, 1 October (p6).   

Only the principals were ever likely to be included in this notice, and even Amfortas fails to get a mention.

Perhaps most important is the presence of Adrian Boult making a rare appearance conducting opera.  Boult had studied for several years under Nikisch at Leipzig before the Great War.

The Scotsman report ran:

'The inclusion of Wagner's sacred festival drama in the repertoire of the British National Opera Company for their Glasgow visit was a happy thought. When last performed in the city this opera proved an outstanding success.

Last night the Theatre-Royal was packed in every part, Parsifal being again the attraction. The manner in which the music was interpreted met with all-round approbation. Full justice was done to the distinctive qualities of the opera, the orchestral work being particularly praiseworthy. 

In his treatment of the score, Mr Adrian Boult, the conductor, showed not a little daring originality,  which greatly impressed the audience.

'Some of the leading members of the company figured in the cast, and all, without exception, gave a meritorious performance. 

Mr Walter Hyde won favour for his masterly interpretation of Parsifal. He made the most of the part, and sang with rare feeling and spirit.

That charming vocalist and accomplished actress, Miss Gladys Ancrum, was equal to all requirements in the role of Kundry, and made a splendid impression. 

Mr Herbert Langley's fine stage presence and resonant voice were used to good effect in the portrayal of Klingsor. 

The Gurnemanz of Mr Norman Allin was well drawn and full of appeal.'


The second Glasgow performance reviewed

The Glasgow Herald of Tuesday, 12 October (p10) followed up:

'The British National Opera Company have now entered on the third and last week of their present season at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. Some operas will have repeat performances, and the remainder of the week's repertoire includes Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci to be given this evening, Tristan and Isolde on Thursday, and the Paris version of Tannhäuser on Saturday at the closing performance.

On Friday comes the first performance on any stage of The Leper's Flute, a new opera by Ralph Bryson and Ian Colvin. of which the story is given in another column of today's issue.

'Last night, Parsifal was produced for the second time this season, with one important change in the cast - Mr Robert Radford as Gurnemanz. 

Mr Radford was making his debut in the part this last evening, and as, even to an artist of his long and wide experience there must always be a first-time feeling on such occasions, he is to be heartily congratulated on the general success of his performance. Perhaps a natural sense of responsibility and attenuant anxiety accounted for some conventional restlessness in his stage demeanour on several occasions when complete stillness would have added to the eloquence of his message and to the impressiveness of the situation.  Vocally he was sometimes rather light in the lower register, but he was in much better form than when he sang last week, and apart from the above reservations was able to employ very successfully the resources of his sympathetic voice in the presentation of this most sympathetic role. He can, and doubtless will, make Gurnemanz more grandly human in future performsnces.

'It took some time last night for the production as a whole to warm up and become as impressive and significant as the whole performance was ten days ago, and even in the second scene of Act I, the singing of the choir in the dome was less effective than before. With the beginning of Act II, the former standard was reached, and was well maintained during the rest of the performance. With the beginning of Act II, the former standard was reached, and was well maintained during the rest of the performance.

The flower maidens again sang specially well, and on this occasion Miss Sylvia Nelis tok the place of Miss May Blyth among the solo voices.  Miss Gladys Ancrum and Messrs Percy Heming, Walter Hyde and Herbert Langley repeated in their respective parts the success they achieved at the previous production.

'Mr Adrian Boult was again a most efficient conductor, securing fine results from the orchestra, particularly in the second and third acts. He took the processional music in the Grail Scene slightly slower than before, not slower than the music permits of in itself, but rather slow for the comfort of those on the stage, who walked with less ease and impressiveness than formerly. But his control of the orchestra was very thorough, and by his unceasing regard for balance with respect to the voices he secured a very wide range of tone amount which was of the greatest expressive value.

'The fine settings were again a feature of the production, and there was no glitch on this occasion in the stage mechanism at the close of the Flower Garden Scene.  The final picture furnished here is most effective.'


An Edinburgh Notice

The Scotsman revisited the production the morning after the first Edinburgh performance - Friday, 22 October (p8):

'One of the great achievements of the British National Opera Company has been the introduction to the provinces of Parsifal, given on an adequate scale, despite the difficulties naturally attendant upon performance under touring conditions.  The impression which was produced by the performance of Wagner's last drama, during the first season of the Company, was not one to be forgotten, and last night's performance of Parsifal no doubt recalled it to the minds of many who remembered that striking rendering.

'As on the occasion of the first Edinburgh performance of the work, Mr Walter Hyde was again the Parsifal and Miss Gladys Ancrum the Kundry.  These are interpretations of singularly exacting rôles which it would probably be impossible to equal among British artists,  The conventions of opera are of little avail in Parsifal, and least of all in the case of the hero, and it is one of the great merits of Mr Hyde's interpretations of the rôle that he sheds for a time, or appears to do so, all the tricks of the operatic tenor.  He contrives to invest with a sense of reality the almost impossible Parsifal of the first act, and the very difficult Good Friday scene he keeps clear of all offence'

'In this he is ably seconded by Miss Gladys Ancrum, who consistently maintains the requisite note of pathos and exultation.  Mr Percy Heming gave a superbly dramatic and convincing rendering of the character of Amfortas, and the Gurnemanz, one of Wagner's best character studies, even if he is rather prolix, of Mr Robert Radford, was ruggedly impressive.  Mr Herbert Langley's Klingsor was good in the melodramatic way which Wagner's treatment of the character renders inevitable, and the little that there is for Titurel to sing was given with an appropriate solemnity by Mr Philip Bertram, an excellent artist of whom not enough is heard.

'Barring one or two slips, excusable in view of the difficulty of the music, the ensemble singing was very good.  The music of the Flower Maidens, and of the chorus, in the Hall of the Grail, with voices sounding from the dome, was highly effective.

'In place of one of the regular conductors of the Company, the performance last night was conducted by Dr Adrian Boult, his first appearance here as an operatic conductor.  The first act, at times, seemed rather to drag, but Dr Boult gave a careful reading of the work, and he kept the orchestra down so that the voices always came through.  This was particularly the case in the Flower Maidens scene, where the fulness and animation of the orchestral work render the obscuring of the voices something not easily to be avoided.

'The mounting of the opera was the same as on previous occasions, impressive in a plain and dignified fashion.  There was a large audience, which responded to the sentiment of the work by hearing it in complete silence.'


Tour Closure in Edinburgh

There is a further review from the Scotsman on Monday, 1 November (p6) of the final Saturday of the visit - Parsifal at the matinee and Bohème in the evening:

'On Saturday the British National Opera Company brought a successful fortnight at the King's Theatre to a conclusion with fine performances of Parsifal and La bohème.  Speaking after the fall of the curtain at the evening performance, Mr Frederic Austin, the artistic director of the Company, in expressing the thanks of himself and his colleagues for the manner in which the Company had been supported during their visit, said that, considering the exceptional circumstances of the time, there was reason for satisfaction.

'As affording an opportunity for people not resident in the city of hearing Parsifal, it was an excellent idea to reserve for its performance one of the Saturday matinees.  The cast was identical with that of the previous performance a week before, and therefore calls for no comment beyond that it afforded further occasion for admiration of Mr Walter Hyde's Parsifal,  Mr Percy Heming's Amfortas,  Miss Gladys Ancrum's Kundry,  Mr Herbert Langley's Klingsor, and Mr Philip Bertram's Titurel.

'The knights and squires were impersonated by Messrs Ralph Humble, Bernard Ross, Liddell Peddieson,  and Martin Quinn, and the Misses Frances Frost and Ella Bailey,  while the soloists among the Flower Maidens were the Misses Eda Bennie,  Sylvia Nelis, Doris Lemon, Marjorie Parry,  Gladys Leathwood and Frances Frost,

'It had been originally arranged that Mr Albert Coates was to have directed the performance.  He was, however, prevented from appearimg by illness.  Interesting as it would have been to have heard the work under such an eminent conductor, it was a fortunate circumstance that it was possible to have Mr Aylmer Buesst as his substitute.

'Mr Buesst gave a really magnificent rendering of the work.  With nothing obtrusive in his reading, there was always a well-defined rhythm - a lucky circumstance, for, with all its beauty, the music of Parsifal in the hands of a conductor deficient in a sense of rhythm, is capable of dragging in a most deadly passion.  With Mr Buesst, however, there was a constant feeling of movement, and, in addition, there was a delightful certainy and clearness of tone in the orchestra.


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

Gurnemanz a veteran Knight

Norman Allin (Sep 30)

Robert Radford (Oct 11, 21, 30 m)

First Squire

Frances Frost (Oct 30 m)

Second Squire

Ella Bailey (Oct 30 m)

Third Squire

Liddell Peddieson (Oct 30 m)

Fourth Squire

Martin Quinn (Oct 30 m)

First Grail Knight

Ralph Humble (Oct 30 m)

Second Grail Knight

Bernard Ross (Oct 30 m)

Kundry a woman in Klingsor's power

Gladys Ancrum (Sep 30; Oct 11, 21, 30 m)

Amfortas Guardian of the Grail

Percy Heming (Oct 11, 21, 30 m)

Parsifal a youth

Walter Hyde (Sep 30; Oct 11, 21, 30 m)

Titurel Amfortas' father, former Guardian

Philip Bertram (Oct 21, 30 m)

Klingsor a magician

Herbert Langley (Sep 30; Oct 11, 21, 30 m)

First Flower Maiden

Eda Bennie (Oct 30 m)

Second Flower Maiden

Sylvia Nelis (Oct 11, 30 m)

Third Flower Maiden

Doris Lemon (Oct 30 m)

Fourth Flower Maiden

Marjorie Parry (Oct 30 m)

Fifth Flower Maiden

Gladys Leathwood (Oct 30 m)

Sixth Flower Maiden

Frances Frost (Oct 30 m)

Performance DatesParsifal 1926

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

30 Sep, 18.40 11 Oct, 18.30

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

21 Oct, 18.15 30 Oct, 13.20

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