Opera Scotland

Carmen 1924British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Carmen

Carmen remained as popular as ever, with Glasgow getting two performances to Edinburgh's one.

This may have been Constance Willis's first appearance as Carmen - it most certainly was not her last.


An Edinburgh View

The Scotsman on Wednesday, 29 October (p8) reviewed the first Carmen performance - the second evening of the tour.  Constance Willis quickly became the company's accepted interpreter of the title role:

'Carmen, with a new Carmen and a new Don José, provided a very interesting performance of Bizet's famous opera at the King's Theatre last night.  Among the Carmens who have been seen in Edinburgh, and there have been a fair number, Miss Constance Willis must be reckoned one of the most completely satisfactory.  To vocal qualifications which are equal to all the demands of the character, Miss Willis joins admirable dramatic abilities and a striking stage presence.

'The rôle is one which presents many opportunities for exaggeration, but, while it was powerful, Miss Willis's Carmen had throughout a suggestion of ease and spontaneity.  The first act, where Carmen casts her spell upon Don José; the inn scene, where she triumphs over his sense of duty; the scene in the smuggler's haunt, and the final tragedy, were full of significant detail, but it was all subordinated to the general effect.

'There was the same admirable fusion of the musical and the dramatic in the Don José of Mr Parry Jones, where the lyrical aspects of the rôle were kept well within the general impression of the soldier carried away by his passion for the gipsy girl.  Here also there was a dramatic study which was restrained and convincing.

'Miss Doris Lemon contributed a particularly good Micaëla to the performance, and there was a dramatic force in her confrontation of her gipsy rival, in the third act, such as Micaëlas seldom display.  As Escamillo, Mr Frederic Collier was perhaps hardly so well suited as in most of the rôles in which he has been seen in Edinburgh, but the song in the inn scene went well, and there was sufficient dramatic effect in his share in the third act.

'As Dancairo and Remendado, Mr William Michael and Mr Sydney Russell called for nothing but praise, and the Misses Eda Bennie and May Blyth, as Frasquita and Mercedes, and Mr Raymond Ellis and Mr Philip Bertram as Morales and Zuniga respectively, worthily completed a fine cast.

'The chorus was good, and the urchins' chorus in the first scene particularly so.  The ballets were charming, and the dancing of Miss Eily Gerald in the fourth act was beautiful.  The orchestra deserves high praise, and under the direction of Mr Julius Harrison the opera as a whole was given with great brilliance.  The mounting of the opera was that usually employed, presenting a series of fine stage pictures.

'If there was anything to which exception might be taken, it was that the pranks of the urchins in the first act, while undoubtedly adding to the animation of the scene, tended at times to be a little distracting.  There was a large and enthusiastic audience.'


A Brief Glasgow Notice

The Scotsman of Tuesday, 11 November (p8) gave a brief introduction to the Glasgow season, which had opened with Carmen:

'The annual visit to Glasgow of the British National Opera company is an event of the first importance in musical circles, and this year is invested with special interest owing to the personnel of the company and the scope of the three week's repertoire.  Since the last visit some notable changes have taken place in the company.  There are a number of new principals, two new conductors, and a new orchestral leader.

'While the departure of several brilliant exponents of operatic art is generally regretted, the standard of talent has in no way diminished, and the company goes on winning fresh laurels.  It is worthy of mention that, so far as Glasgow is concerned the company is breaking new ground in including in their repertoire three British operas - Rutland Boughton's Alkestis, Sir Alexander Mackenzie's The Eve of St John, and Vaughan Williams's Hugh the Drover.

'In opening their season last night with a performance of Carmen, the company gave a foretaste of what is in store for opera lovers, and at the same time whetted the appetite of a packed house.  The inheresnt spirit and beauty of Bizet's composition were artistically and effectively interpreted, and won a generous meed of applause from a delighted audience.

'In their treatment of the opera, principals and orchestra alike showed a fine conception of musical values and artistic taste.  In every department the performance was of a high standard, the orchestration work being especially commendable.

'Miss Constance Willis made a very pleasing Carmen, and fulfilled almost all the requirements for that part.  If at times she had a tendency to overdo the dramatic passages, she redeemed that fault by the general excellence of her portrayal and the quality of her vocalism.  Mr Tudor Davies made a decidedly good impression as Don José, singing and acting with all his wonted charm.

'Mr Frederic Collier as Escamillo, Mr Dennis Noble as Morales, Miss Mary Lewis as Micaëla, Miss May Blyth as Mercedes, and Mr William Michael as Dancaire also contributed in full measure to a first-rate performance.'


More Critical Reaction

With the Scottish tour drawing to a close, even the Scotsman of Saturday, 29 November (p7) reported briefly on the final Friday Carmen in Glasgow:

'With the visit of the British National Opera Company to the city drawing to a close, greater interest than ever is being evinced in their performances.  That fact, combined with the staging of Carmen, than which there are few more popular works with Glasgow lovers of opera, accounted for the large and enthusiastic audience in the Theatre-Royal last night.  The cast was much on the same lines as that which presented Bizet's delightful work on the opening night of the visit, and the principals and orchestra alike showed a fine conception of musical value and artistic taste.

'Miss Constance Willis played the part of the fickle Carmen with great intensity and conviction, and all the while singing with much charm.  The Don José of Mr Tudor Davies was just as finished and inspired; while Mr Howard Fry as Escamillo,  Mr Dennis Noble as Morales,  Miss Mary Lewis as Micaëla, and Miss May Blyth as Mercedes, interpreted their parts with distinction, and contributed in full measure to the success of the performance.  Mr Malcolm Sargent conducted.'


BNOC's 1924 Scottish tour

The BNOC tour of Scotland in 1924 lasted five weeks - two in Edinburgh (King's) then three in Glasgow (Theatre Royal).

Amazingly, four operas by British composers were toured, as well as four French, though only one by Verdi.  As usual, Wagner and Puccini seem to enjoy undying popularity.  One Russian piece also puts in an appearance.

A total of 19 works were performed:

Mozart (Marriage of Figaro,  Magic Flute);   Wagner (Tannhäuser,  MastersingersSiegfried);  Verdi (Aïda);  Gounod (Faust);  Offenbach (Tales of Hoffmann);  Bizet (Carmen);  Rimsky-Korsakov (Golden Cockerel);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);   Puccini (BohèmeMadam ButterflyGianni Schicchi);  Debussy (Pelléas and Mélisande);  Mackenzie (Eve of St John);  Vaughan Williams (Hugh the Drover);  Holst (Perfect Fool);  Boughton (Alkestis).

The performance schedule is as follows:

Edinburgh,  w/c 27 October:  Mon 27 Marriage of Figaro;  Tue 28 Carmen;  Wed 29 mat Madam Butterfly;  Wed 29 eve Hugh the Drover:  Thu 30 Perfect Fool & Gianni Schicchi;  Fri 31 Siegfried;  Sat 01 mat  Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 01 eve Tales of Hoffmann.

Edinburgh, w/c 3 November:  Mon 03 Golden Cockerel;  Tue 04 Pelléas et Mélisande;  Wed 05 mat  Magic Flute;  Wed 05 eve Tannhäuser;  Thu 06 Mastersingers;  Fri 07 Alkestis;  Sat 08 mat  Hugh the Drover;  Sat 08 eve  Aïda.

Glasgow, w/c 10 November:  Mon 10 Carmen;  Tue 11 Mastersingers;  Wed 12 mat Alkestis;  Wed 12 eve  Tales of Hoffmann;  Thu 13 Magic Flute;  Fri 14  Golden Cockerel;  Sat 15 mat Aïda;  Sat 15 eve Marriage of Figaro.

Glasgow, w/c 17 November:  Mon 17 Tales of Hoffmann;  Tue 18 Bohème;  Wed 19 mat  Magic Flute;  Med 19 eve  Aïda;  Thu 20 Eve of St John & Perfect Fool;  Fri 21 Hugh the Drover;  Sat 22 mat Gianni Schicchi  Pagliacci;  Sat 22 eve Tannhäuser.

Glasgow, w/c 24 November:  Mon 24 Marriage of Figaro;  Tue 25  Faust;  Wed 26 mat Golden Cockerel;  Wed 26 eve Magic Flute;  Thu 27 Hugh the Drover;  Fri 28  Carmen;  Sat 29 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 29 eve Mastersingers.

Performance Cast

Moralès a corporal of dragoons

Dennis Noble (Oct 28; Nov 10, 28)

Micaëla a peasant girl

Mary Lewis (Oct 28; Nov 10, 28)

Don José a corporal of dragoons

Parry Jones (Oct 28)

Tudor Davies (Nov 10, 28)

Zuniga a lieutenant of dragoons

Philip Bertram (Oct 28)

Carmen a gypsy

Constance Willis (Oct 28; Nov 10, 28)

Frasquita a gypsy, Carmen’s friend

Eda Bennie (Oct 28)

Mercédès a gypsy, Carmen’s friend

May Blyth (Oct 28; Nov 10, 28)

Escamillo a toreador

Frederic Collier (Oct 28; Nov 10)

Howard Fry (Nov 28)

Dancaïre a smuggler

William Michael (Oct 28; Nov 10)

Remendado a smuggler

Sydney Russell (Oct 28)

Performance DatesCarmen 1924

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

28 Oct, 19.00

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

10 Nov, 19.00 28 Nov, 19.00

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