Opera Scotland

Aïda 1922British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Aïda

The British National Opera Company gave its first performance at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford on 6 February 1922, opening the season with Aïda.

The directors had all been associated with Sir Thomas Beecham's company which had gone into liquidation in December 1920. These leaders included the soprano Agnes Nicholls, tenor Walter Hyde and basses Robert Radford and Norman Allin, with the conductor Aylmer Buesst.  The Musical Director was Percy Pitt.

They were able to take over the former Beecham company's sets and costumes, generally quite lavish, which allowed them immediately to stage expensive, larger-scale works such as Aïda and Parsifal which would otherwise have been far beyond their resources.

Here we have three performances  in Edinburgh in the spring, with Glasgow getting two in the autumn.


The Edinburgh Opening

BNOC's first Edinburgh season, lasting three weeks, followed a month after that  Bradford opening, starting on 6 March, and also commencing with Aïda.

Cast details and comment for the opening night of the season are as reviewed in The Scotsman of Tuesday, 7 March (p4):

'Probably no musical enterprise in this country ever came to an end amid such general regret as attended the announcement that Sir Thomas Beecham found himself compelled to abandon the task, to which he had given himself so generously, of providing London and the provinces with opera in English on a scale which had not previously been attempted.  It was a genuine musical catastrophe, for under the Beecham direction operas hitherto unknown to the general public had been produced in a style which was something of a revelation, alike in respect of singers, orchestra, and staging.

'Sir Thomas Beecham set up an entirely new standard.  There was all the more satisfaction, therefore, when it was learned last year that the good work which he had done was not to be lost, and that the artists to whom he had been an inspiration had resolved to carry on his ideas.  They have fortunately become the possessors of the material which he had accumulated, and entering upon their campaign some few weeks ago, they have so far had reason to congratulate themselves.

'In their initial season a certain amount of caution was to be expected, but that it has by no means been pushed to excess is proved by the fact that already Parsifal has been included in the repertory.  The Mastersingers, no longer a novelty, but not a work to be too lightly undertaken, has a place in the repertory,  which also includes one absolute novelty, so far as this country is concerned, Offenbach's Goldsmith of Toledo.

'For the opening performance last night of the three weeks which the National Opera Company will spend in Edinburgh, Verdi's Aïda was chosen, an appropriate selection, for the work is a favourite with the public, and it has such a general magnificence of effect that it served to inaugurate the series of operas with a fitting stateliness.

'The first and most important impression to be derived from last night's performance in the King's Theatre was that the Beecham Company has returned, with some changes, it is true, in its personnel, but with its standard unaltered.  The members of the new organisation probably desire no greater praise, for to continue the work of their old chief was what they set themselves to accomplish, and, so far as was to be judged last night, they have been completely successful in their efforts.

The singers may fairly be counted as representing the cream of their profession. There is an admirable orchestra, chorus and ballet are as good as under the Beecham régime, and the opera last night presented the series of gorgeous stage pictures which the Beecham performances have rendered familiar.

'The Radamès was Mr William Boland, who sang and acted with a fire and conviction beyond anything which he has yet achieved here. For the two women who are rivals for the affections of Radamès, no better choice could have been made than of Miss Beatrice Miranda as Aïda, and of Miss Edna Thornton as Amneris. They are now both well-known impersonations, but repetition robs them of nothing of their charm.

'Mr Robert Radford's High Priest was another impersonation as artistic as it was familiar, and the great voice seemed to roll out with even more than its usual organ-like fulness of tone. Mr William Anderson's King was marked by a dignity of tone and bearing which made it a worthy companion piece to Mr Radford's High Priest, and the Amonasro of Mr Augustus Milner, while it did justice, vocally and dramatically, to a fine role, was robbed of a little of its due effect by a make-up which scarcely realised the idea conveyed by the text, of the Ethiopian King.

'In the minor characters of the Messenger and the Priestess, Mr Ernest Howie and Miss Diana Melrose were quite in keeping with the remainder of the cast.  Mr Aylmer Buesst conducted, and under his direction the opera as a whole was given with an excellent sense of its dramatic significance, and the great dramatic ensembles were always clear and well balanced. There was a large audience, which was quick to appreciate the merit of the performance.'


A Second Viewing

The Scotsman of Monday, 20 March (p6) returned to the second performance on the previous Saturday evening:

'At night,  Aïda, with some changes in the cast from that of the previous performance, presented the same general splendour of effect.  From his magnificent delivery of the open aria, Mr William Boland's Radamès was marked by a superb dramatic force and conviction;  and the Aïda of Miss Beatrice Miranda was again a triumph of fine acting and singing.

'Replacing Miss Edna Thornton as Amneris Miss Phyllis Archibald achieved a complete success;  and Mr Andrew Shanks as Amonasro demonstrated afresh his admirable faculty of entering into the spirit of a character.

'Mr William Anderson as the High Priest and Mr Frederic Collier as the King rivalled one another in impressiveness, and the chorus was as good as ever in the imposing ensembles.'


Autumn in Glasgow

The Glasgow Herald of Friday, 24 November (p6) reviewed another performance:

'There have been many performances in Edinburgh of Aïda, but it is doubtful if there has ever been one of such all-round excellence as that of last night at the King's Theatre.  With the exception of Miss Florence Austral, making her first appearance here as the Ethiopian Princess, the cast was more or less familiar.  Miss Edna Thornton's Amneris and Mr William Boland's Radamès are impersonations of which the merit is now taken for granted, and Mr Robert Parker's Amonasro, Mr William Anderson's Ramphis, and Mr Frederic Collier's King are similarly performances which give rise to confident anticipations that they will not be otherwise than admirable.  Last night, however, there was a suggestion of everything being keyed up to a brilliance beyond the ordinary.  Of the new Aïda, Miss Austral, it may be said that she more than satisfied the expectations awakened by her Brünnhilde of Tuesday evening.

'Dealing with a character of a wider musical and emotional range,  Miss Austral responded magnificently to its demands in every respect.  There was a beautiful expressiveness in the more lyric passages, she acted well, and in the imposing ensembles in which Verdi delights, her voice came through the surrounding masses of tone with an astonishing richness and power.  This was notably the case in the finale of the procession scene in the second act, where the great voice rang out, with an unforced fulness of tone, through the perfect riot of sound with which the scene concludes.  After the opening scene of the opera, Miss Austral was called before the curtain four times, and the remainder of the evening was of the nature of a continued triumph for the new-comer.

'Mr William Boland's Radamès gains in beauty and dramatic effectiveness, and every aspect of the rôle was masterly in its treatment.  Amneris, like Delilah, is a rôle which Miss Edna Thornton has made peculiarly her own, and, like everyone else on the stage, she was last night at her best.  Mr Robert Parker's Amonasro was finely dramatic, and Mr Frederic Coliier's King and Mr William Anderson's High Priest were always impressive.

'Orchestra, chorus, and ballet were all  in keeping with the general suggestion of an effectiveness beyond the usual, and with the beautiful stage pictures for which the opera gives scope, the performance as a whole was particularly exhilarating, and the audience proportionately demonstrative in its appreciation.

'Mr Julius Harrison conducted.'


BNOC in Scotland - 1922 (Spring and Autumn)

This first season saw BNOC coming to Scotland twice. The spring visit, in March, consisted of three weeks in Edinburgh (King's Theatre).  In the autumn there were four weeks - two at Glasgow Theatre Royal, and two more in Edinburgh.

A total of nineteen operas were included  - an astonishing number for a newly established company.  Wagner far outweighs any other composers, most notably Verdi:

They were by Mozart (Magic Flute);  Wagner (Tannhäuser,  Tristan and Isolde,   MastersingersValkyrieSiegfriedParsifal); Verdi (Aïda); Saint-Saêns (Samson and Delilah); Gounod (Faust); Offenbach (Goldsmith of Toledo);  Bizet (Carmen); Leoncavallo (Pagliacci); Puccini (BohèmeToscaMadam Butterfly); Debussy (Prodigal Son);  Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana); Charpentier (Louise).

The schedule was as follows:


Edinburgh, w/c 6 March:  Mon 6 Aida;  Tue 7 Parsifal;  Wed 8 mat Cav & Pag;  Wed 8 eve Tannhäuser; Thu 9 Carmen;  Fri 10 Samson and Delilah;  Sat 11 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 11 eve Faust.

Edinburgh, w/c 13 March:  Mon 13 Mastersingers;  Tue 14 Magic Flute;  Wed 15 mat Samson and Delilah;  Wed 15 eve Carmen; Thu 16 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Fri 17 Madam Butterfly;  Sat 18 mat Bohème;  Sat 18 eve Aïda.

Edinburgh, w/c 20 March:  Mon 20 Parsifal;  Tue 21 Samson and Delilah;  Wed 22 mat Parsifal;  Wed 22 eve Bohème; Thu 23 Mastersingers;  Fri 24 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Sat 25 mat Aïda;  Sat 25 eve Carmen.


Glasgow, w/c 6 November:  Mon 6 Parsifal;  Tue 7 Magic Flute;  Wed 8 mat Tosca;  Wed 8 eve Faust;  Thu 9 Louise;  Fri 10 Samson and Delilah;  Sat 11 mat Bohème;  Sat 11 eve Prodigal Son & Pagliacci.

Glasgow, w/c 13 November:  Mon 13 Aïda;  Tue 14 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Wed 15 mat Parsifal;  Wed 15 eve Magic Flute; Thu 16 Mastersingers;  Fri 17 Louise;  Sat 18 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 18 eve Faust.

Edinburgh, w/c 20 November:  Mon 20 Magic Flute;  Tue 21 Valkyrie;  Wed 22 mat Bohème;  Wed 22 eve Samson and Delilah; Thu 23 Aïda;  Fri 24 Louise;  Sat 25 mat Faust;  Sat 25 eve Tosca.

Edinburgh, w/c 27 November:  Mon 27 Siegfried;  Tue 28 Tristan and Isolde;  Wed 29 mat Magic Flute;  Wed 29 eve Goldsmith of Toledo; Thu 30 Louise;  Fri 1 Dec Bohème;  Sat 2 mat Parsifal;  Sat 2 eve Samson and Delilah.

Performance Cast

Ramfis High Priest

Robert Radford (Mar 6)

William Anderson (Mar 18 e; Nov 23)

Radamès Captain of the Guard

William Boland (Mar 6, 18 e; Nov 23)

Amneris daughter of the King of Egypt

Edna Thornton (Mar 6; Nov 23)

Phyllis Archibald (Mar 18 e)

Aïda an Ethiopian slave

Beatrice Miranda (Mar 6, 18 e)

Florence Austral (Nov 23)

King of Egypt

William Anderson (Mar 6)

Frederic Collier (Mar 18 e; Nov 23)


Ernest Howie (Mar 6)


Diana Melrose (Mar 6)

Amonasro King of Ethiopia and father of Aïda

Augustus Milner (Mar 6)

Andrew Shanks (Mar 18 e)

Robert Parker (Nov 23)

Performance DatesAïda 1922

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

6 Mar, 19.00 18 Mar, 19.00 25 Mar, 14.00 23 Nov, 19.00

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

13 Nov, 19.00

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