Opera Scotland

Madam Butterfly 1926British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Madama Butterfly

The 1926 Scottish tour by BNOC was the last to be restricted to the central belt. There were three performances of Butterfly - an evening in the middle of the first Glasgow week, followed by two matinees - the final Saturday in Glasgow and the second Wednesday in Edinburgh.  While the casting is generally excellent with Miriam Licette in the title role, perhaps the most important element from the historical perspective is the highly-praised conducting of young John Barbirolli. His recording, made forty years later in Rome, remains one of the most important elements of his operatic legacy.


The Glasgow view

The Glasgow Herald of Thursday, September 30 (p11) reported on both Wednesday's matinee and evening:

'The very high standard attained by the company in each of the three performances already noticed was again reached in the evening when Madame Butterfly was staged. The real qualities of this pathetic little opera demand for their full expression singing and acting in equal proportions on the part of all concerned. 

This was provided in full measure last evening by Miss Miriam Licette as Butterfly, Miss Constance Willis as Suzuki, and Mr Herbert Langley as Sharpless. They formed a great trio in the second and third acts, with Mr Tudor Davies as a worthy associate in the first act and during the closing minutes of the story.

The singing was all of a high order,  and the performance was altogether one of the best we have had in Glasgow for some time.

'Mr John Barbirolli, who conducted, showed once more his power to get the full expressive value out of the score. Under his direction, the orchestra played eloquently, and reflected faithfully all that was being felt and done on the stage.

The staging and production were notably good.'


Glasgow - the final day

The Glasgow Herald of Monday, 18 October summarised the Saturday matinee of Butterfly as well as the evening Tannhäuser:

'The three week season in Glasgow of the British National Opera Company came to a close on Saturday when two performances were given in the Theatre Royal. In the afternoon there was a repeat production of Madam Butterfly, with some important changes of cast. 

Mr Francis Russell, a ''guest'' tenor, appeared as Pinkerton with particular success. He has a voice of power and fine quality, a good lyrical style, and a great ability as an actor. It would be interesting to hear and see him in a part of a different type. On Saturday he presented with great success that dangerous combination of attractiveness, selfishness, and thoughtlessness which makes a complete Pinkerton.

'Mr Dennis Noble was also fine as Sharpless, bringing to the impersonation of this ungrateful role his usual contributions, art as a singer and dramatic intelligence. Mr Frederick Davies portrayed Goro, the marriage broker, well, but was less interesting vocally. 

Miss Miriam Licette, Miss Constance Willis, and Miss Eda Bennie as the ladies of the cast, good chorus work and stage ensemble, and a fine performance from the orchestra under Mr John Barbirolli, the opera had altogether a most effective performance.'


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);  Bet (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

Lieutenant F B Pinkerton U S Navy

Tudor Davies (Sep 29 e)

Francis Russell (Oct 16 m)

Goro marriage broker

Frederick Davies (Oct 16 m)

Suzuki Cio-Cio-San's servant

Constance Willis (Sep 29 e; Oct 16 m)

Sharpless U S Consul in Nagasaki

Herbert Langley (Sep 29 e)

Dennis Noble (Oct 16 m)

Cio-Cio-San known as Madam Butterfly

Miriam Licette (Sep 29 e; Oct 16 m)

Kate Pinkerton

Eda Bennie (Oct 16 m)

Performance DatesMadam Butterfly 1926

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

29 Sep, 19.30 16 Oct, 14.00

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

27 Oct, 14.00

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