Opera Scotland

Madam Butterfly 1959Sadler's Wells Opera

Read more about the opera Madama Butterfly

On this tour by Sadler’s Wells, their Music Director, Alexander Gibson, conducted two of the operas - Rigoletto as well as Butterfly. The singers in this Butterfly cast were largely Australian.

Joan Hammond had been a champion golfer in her youth, and when she toured Scotland she drove round towing a caravan, which she parked at various courses around the country, sometimes being called on to present the prizes if there was a tournament going on. She was known to be utterly reliable, and invariably arrived at the theatre just in time to do her make-up and costume. The Dundee visit was always useful, permitting her to choose between St Andrews, Carnoustie and Rosemount (Blairgowrie).


The Dundee Press - Season Preview

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Friday, February 27, 1959

Sadler's Wells list Dundee programme

'Details of the Dundee visit of the Sadler's Wells Opera Company for the week commencing April 27 were given in London last night. The Dundee visit is part of a 14-week tour of Scotland and England, which the company starts in the middle of March.

'Joan Hammond in Madam Butterfly will be a highlight of the performances at the Gaumont, Dundee. This strong Sadler's Wells company includes 5 guest artistes, 35 principals, a chorus of 46 and a 50-strong orchestra with 5 conductors, including Alexander Gibson.

'The full programme is: - Monday evening and Saturday matinée, The Merry Widow; Tuesday, Madam Butterfly; Wednesday, Carmen; Thursday, The Marriage of Figaro; Friday, Fidelio; and Saturday evening, Rigoletto.

'Mr Norman Tucker, director of the Sadler's Wells Opera Company, said last night that in future the tours would start earlier, usually when pantomime closed in February.'


Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Saturday, February 28, 1959

Opera seats go quickly

'Applications for seats for Madam Butterfly at Dundee Gaumont Theatre on April 28 have been so numerous that already that night is almost certain to be a sell-out, said Mr Robert Wood, the Gaumont manager, last night.'

“The demand is terrific,” he said, referring to block bookings and postal applications for seats. Joan Hammond, the Australian prima donna, is to be guest artiste as Butterfly in this, the Tuesday evening performance in the Sadler's Wells Opera's week at the Gaumont. Mr Wood said next in heaviest demand is The Merry Widow on the Monday night.'


Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Monday, April 27, 1959

Dundee always good for Sadler's Wells

'The Sadler's Wells Opera arrived in Dundee yesterday by special train from Edinburgh. A week's run at the Gaumont starts tonight. Opera manager Mr John Wright told a reporter from “The Courier” in a dressing room that he was glad to be back in the city.  He understood bookings were very good, but then, they always were in Dundee.

'When the curtain rings down on Saturday night's final performance the company will have reached the half-way mark of their 14-week tour.  After Dundee they go to Glasgow, Stockton-on-Tees, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, and Bournemouth.

'As guest star in Dundee for Madam Butterfly Sadler's Wells have Joan Hammond. This opera is being performed tomorrow night, and Miss Hammond is not expected to arrive until about one-and-a-half hours before the curtain up.

“I have good faith in Joan,” Mr Wright said. “I know she would let me know in good time if anything was wrong.  I believe she is in Scotland at the moment.  She sings with us once every week. This is a sort of business-cum-pleasure trip for her.”

'As soon as the special train arrived in Dundee at 11.15 yesterday forenoon work began on transporting props, scenery and musical instruments to the theatre. Three entire operas were taken in. The others will replace them as required.'


Dundee Press Review

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Wednesday, April 29, 1959

Record curtain calls for Miss Hammond

'There was an atmosphere of a special gala performance at the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee, last night for Sadler's Wells' Madam Butterfly, with the Australian prima donna Joan Hammond in the title role. To say that this magnificent soprano robusto scored the success expected of her would be an understatement. Her complete triumph was demonstrated by the unprecedented number of ten curtain calls. True, her fellow artistes shared, but the weight of the applause was her very own.

'Not only did she thrill her admirers with the flaming strength of her voice on high notes, but of far greater consequence, she gave a subtly-shaded performance of the emotions felt by the tragic Geisha girl-wife and mother.   Long acquaintance with the part, and her special quality in realising the emotional delicacies of Puccini's musical dialogues, made her Cho-Cho-San more than usually moving in operatic experience.  Miss Hammond made Butterfly refinedly tragic rather than melodramatic. Her fine acting and glorious voice underlined the dignity and pathos of the character. She reached her peak in Act II, in Butterfly's touching, but misplaced, faith in Pinkerton's return, culminating in the “One Fine Day” aria.

'The No.1 top-note spine-tingler, the love-duet in Act I, with Pinkerton (Ronald Dowd), received the maximum power of two large-lung capacities, plus some admirable delicacies. One noticed how finely both artistes negotiated the typical Puccini octave lift, then swelled on the top note.  Ronald Dowd, also an Australian, made an excellent Lieut. Pinkerton.  He, too, had the essential artistry for the musical dialogue, and in his lesser opportunities for display of bravura singing, his high register had a fine ring.

'Among the supporting roles, Barbara Howitt's Suzuki was an excellent study in another vocal skill, while Gwyn Griffiths impressed with his fine baritone as the US Consul.

'The old controversy was heard about whether there was too much orchestral weight. I think it is undeniable there was too much volume at times (the orchestra numbers 50) particularly for some of the supporting singers. But, on the other hand, the conductor had a score to present which is an integral part of the opera.  With occasional reservations on the volume question, I thought the orchestral playing, and Alexander Gibson's masterly handling of it, was a great enjoyment.

'Joan Hammond will be in St Andrews today. Later Miss Hammond is to be at Carnoustie, presenting the prizes at the end of the David Low golf tournament.'


Sadler's Wells Opera in Scotland - 1959

This tour was extremely unusual in that it lasted three weeks, spread across three cities.  The same repertoire was presented in each of the venues - Edinburgh (King's Theatre), Dundee (Gaumont Theatre) and Glasgow (King's Theatre).

The six operas performed in each city were Mozart (Marriage of Figaro); Beethoven (Fidelio);  Verdi (Rigoletto);  Bizet (Carmen);  Puccini (Madam Butterfly) and  Lehár (Merry Widow).

The tour schedule was:

Edinburgh, w/c 20 Apr:  Mon 20 Merry Widow;  Tue 21 Carmen;  Wed 22 Fidelio;  Thu 23 Marriage of Figaro;  Fri 24 Madam Butterfly;  Sat 25 m Merry Widow;  Sat 25 e Rigoletto.

Dundee, w/c 27 Apr:  Mon 27 Merry Widow;  Tue 28  Madam Butterfly;  Wed 29 Carmen;  Thu 30 Marriage of Figaro;  Fri 1 May Fidelio;  Sat 2 m Merry Widow;  Sat 2 e Rigoletto.

Glasgow, w/c 4 May:  Mon 4 Merry Widow;  Tue 5 Madam Butterfly; Wed 6 Marriage of Figaro;  Thu 7 Fidelio;  Fri 8 Carmen;  Sat 9 m Merry Widow;  Sat 9 e Rigoletto.

Cast as performed in Dundee.

Performance Cast

Lieutenant F B Pinkerton U S Navy

Ronald Dowd (Apr 28)

Goro marriage broker

Kevin Miller (Apr 28)

Suzuki Cio-Cio-San's servant

Barbara Howitt (Apr 28)

Sharpless U S Consul in Nagasaki

Gwyn Griffiths (Apr 28)

Cio-Cio-San known as Madam Butterfly

Joan Hammond (Apr 28)

Imperial Commissioner

Eric Stannard (Apr 28)

Bonze a priest, Cio-Cio-San's uncle

Stanislav Pieczora (Apr 28)

Prince Yamadori

Kevin Mills (Apr 28)

Kate Pinkerton

Lily Gribbin (Apr 28)

Performance DatesMadam Butterfly 1959

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

24 Apr, 19.30

Gaumont Theatre | Dundee

28 Apr, 19.30

King's Theatre, Glasgow | Glasgow

5 May, 19.30

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