Opera Scotland

Rheingold 1923British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Rhinegold

1923 sees Glasgow getting its second cycle of Wagner's Ring, twelve years after the first had been supplied by Ernst Denhof.  The critical opinion was that these cycles should become regular events.  Sadly, the next cycle was not performed until Scottish Opera's first, in 1971.  This was quickly followed by ENO, on their final tour, in 1976.  There was then a further gap before Scottish Opera's second cycle in 2003.

When a character appeared in more than one of the operas, the company generally succeeded in employing the same singer throughout - three appearances for Wotan, Brünnhilde and Alberich, two for Siegfried, Mime, Fricka, Erda,  Rhinemaidens - the exception seems to be Fafner, with one bass in Rhinegold and a second in Siegfried.  This helps enormously with continuity.  It therefore seems odd that the cycle should have been divided between several conductors.  Percy Pitt, the company's musical director led Rhinegold and Valkyrie; Julius Harrison was in charge of Siegfried, while Aylmer Buesst conducted Twilight of the Gods.

The Coliseum was a variety house, and this three-week season is its only exposure to opera. Management was not accustomed to certain procedures that audiences took for granted at Glasgow's more high-class venues.  There was even a letter of complaint to the Herald. about poor planning at the Coliseum.


The Critical Opinion

The Glasgow Herald of Tuesday, 20 March (p8) began its record of the 1923 Ring cycle:

'Last evening the British National Opera company opened a three weeks' season at the Coliseum Theatre, Glasgow with a fine performance of The Rhinegold.  This is only the second visit of the company to Glasgow, and the two occasions are separated by an interval of less than six months.  It is therefore worth noting that the list of operas down for performance is of special interest and widely different from the previous one, containing as it does such important additions to the repertoire as Hansel and Gretel, three Mozart operas and the Nibelung's Ring, and promising also a revival of Phoebus and Pan.

'On the occasion of their first visit the company introduced Parsifal to a Glasgow audience.  They are thus carrying out very faithfully the first obligation of a company with their artistic resources, and their enterprise and industry, in expanding so worthily the provincial knowledge of opera are deserving of full recognition and support.  It was therefore very gratifying to find a large audience assembled last evening for the opening performance.  There were still some vacant seats but the very spacious auditorium was well filled.

'The Ring of the Nibelungs has only once before been heard complete in Glasgow, during the memorable short season of the Denhof Opera.  As this happened some twelve years ago,  Wagner's great work has all the features of a novelty, particularly as regards The Rhinegold and The Dusk of the Gods, which are seldom honoured in these parts with single performances.  Undoubtedly The Ring is most enjoyable when heard as a trilogy with a prelude, and the four operas should also be given in as close a sequence as is practicable.

'The arrangement under the present scheme, by which the four operas are spread over the greater part of three weeks, is not the best, therefore, and those who attend all four performances will have a somewhat similar experience to the patient souls who read serial stories in monthly magazines.  Probably the management can furnish good reasons for the present arrangement, but it would be an improvement if the complete performance could be brought within the compass of one week.

'The Rhinegold is generally regarded as the least interesting of the Ring operas.  From its position as a preludial work it suffers no doubt from the same disadvantages that attend the first act of a play or the first chapters of a book.  Its chief function is to set the stage, as it were, for the remaining three operas, and, musically speaking, to announce the main item of the thematic material which they are going to develop.  But it would be a mistake to ignore it on that account.  People who refuse to read a preface often miss some very fine writing, and those who think they may do without The Rhinegold will miss a fine opera which is only less than great when it is compared with the standard Wagner himself set up in The Valkyrie and the others.

'When it is remembered that Rhinegold came five years after Lohengrin it is possible to estimate the rapidity with which Wagner was ripening at that period, and the fact is even more strongly emphasised by The Valkyrie which came two years later and is one of Wagner's greatest works.  If, then, the degree of musical interest varies considerably in Rhinegold the average level is more than high enough tomake the work a great opera, and a good performance always offers an ample reward to the audience.

'As already indicated, last night's performance was in every way very fine, and if the standard set in the opening work is going to be maintained in the three remaining operas the opera-goers of Glasgow will have reason to congratulate themselves.  The cast was of all-round excellence, and as the opera contains several very important roles this is a more vital matter than it sometimes is.

'Mr Robert Parker as Wotan and Mr Walter Hyde as Loge were chief among the gods.  Mr hyde had the more difficult part to fill, and if an occasional detail of posture or movement came as a surprise, and seemed not easy to account for, the general effect was undoubtedly satisfying and of sustained interest.  Vocally the performance was on a high level, the account of Loge's wanderings, given in the second scene being specially good.  Mr Parker as Wotan sang very finely, though with a tendency at the close to sharpen slightly.

'The two Nibelungs were very characteristically portrayed by Mr William Michael as Alberich (who never ceased to sing, even in the most gruffly declamatory parts of his music), and Mr Sydney Russell, a valuable member of the company, and a most excellent Mime.  Messrs Robert Radford and Norman allin as the Giants, and Messrs Frederic Collier and Tudor Davies as Donner and Froh respectively, completed the male portion of the cast in most satisfactory fashion.

'The Goddesses and the Rhine Maidens have less to do, but it is important, and in the case of the latter requires special care.  Misses Doris Lemon, May Blyth, and Muriel Brunskill were vocally very good and sang with great finish in the beautiful concerted music when it recurs at the close of the opera.  In the opening scene it was not so good.  Miss Edna Thornton was a worthy Fricka and Miss Elsy Treweek a most winning and sweet-voiced Freia.  The small part of Erda was taken by Miss Brunskill.

'The orchestra, directed by Mr Percy Pitt, played splendidly, if occasionally a little too loudly, and contributed some of the best moments of the performance.  The extremely difficult problems connected with the staging were overcome, very wisely, by not troubling about them.  It is an interesting thought that just as mechanism is sufficiently advanced to make possible all or nearly all of Wagner's stage requirements the need for them is being felt less and less strongly.  Undoubtedly it is better to leave something to the imagination, and one wondered last evening if even the occasional puff of steam which signified an entrance or an exit in Nibelheim, and the flash of flame that heralded Loge were really necessary, and in any way helpful.  Apart from this small matter the stage pictures were uniformly impressive, and presented from first to last many beautiful colour schemes.

'The scene at the bottom of the Rhine was almost too dark part of the time, and would it not be possible to have the Rhine Maidens move around a little more than they do and with more freedom?  The sportiveness of the opening scene was barely suggested.  The costumes were beautiful, and some of the stage groupings, particularly in the second scene, were specially fine.'


BNOC in Scotland - 1923 (Spring & Autumn)

The company's Spring visit lasted five weeks - two in Edinburgh (King's Theatre) and three in Glasgow (at the Coliseum, as the Theatre Royal was not available).

Returning in the autumn, the visit again lasted five weeks - four in Glasgow (this time at the Theatre Royal) and one in Edinburgh (King's Theatre).

The 29 operas performed were Bach (Phoebus and Pan);  Mozart (Seraglio,  Marriage of Figaro,  Magic Flute);  Wagner (Tannhäuser,  Mastersingers,  Rhinegold,  Valkyrie,  Siegfried,  Twilight of the Gods);  Verdi (TrovatoreAïda Otello);  Gounod (Faust);  Bizet (Carmen);  Saint-Saëns (Samson and Delilah);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);  Puccini (Bohème,  Tosca,  Madam Butterfly,  Gianni Schicchi);  Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana);  Humperdinck (Hansel and Gretel);  Debussy (Pelléas and Mélisande);  Charpentier (Louise);  Smyth (Boatswain's Mate,  Fête Galante);  Holst (Savitri,  Perfect Fool).

The schedule was as follows:


Edinburgh, w/c 5 March:  Mon 5 Samson and Delilah;  Tue 6 Marriage of Figaro;  Wed 7 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 7 eve Aïda; Thu 8 Madam Butterfly;  Fri 9 Carmen;  Sat 10 mat Phoebus and Pan & Pagliacci;  Sat 10 eve Trovatore.

Edinburgh, w/c 12 March:  Mon 12 Seraglio;  Tue 13 Tannhäuser;  Wed 14 mat Marriage of Figaro;  Wed 14 eve Hansel and Gretel;  Thu 15 Magic Flute;  Fri 16 Mastersingers;  Sat 17 mat Bohème;  Sat 17 eve Faust.

Glasgow, w/c 19 March:  Mon 19 Rhinegold;  Tue 20 Valkyrie;  Wed 21 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 21 eve Phoebus and Pan & Pagliacci;  Thu 22 Madam Butterfly;  Fri 23 Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 24 mat Magic Flute;  Sat 24 eve Trovatore.

Glasgow, w/c 26 March:  Mon 26 Seraglio;  Tue 27 Siegfried;  Wed 28 mat Samson and Delilah;  Wed 28 eve Louise;  Thu 29 Phoebus and Pan & Pagliacci;  Fri 30 Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 31 mat Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 31 eve Madam Butterfly.

Glasgow, w/c 2 April:  Mon 2 Carmen;  Tue 3 Mastersingers;  Wed 4 mat Bohème;  Wed 4 eve Samson and Delilah;  Thu 5 Magic Flute;  Fri 6 Twilight of the Gods; Sat 7 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 7 eve Aïda.


Glasgow, w/c 29 October:  Mon 29 Magic Flute;  Tue 30 Samson and Delilah;  Wed 31 mat Phoebus and Pan & Pagliacci;  Wed 31 eve Bohème;  Thu 1 Nov Aïda;  Fri 2 Valkyrie;  Sat 3 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Sat 3 eve Madam Butterfly.

Glasgow, w/c 5 November:  Mon 5 Savitri Perfect Fool;  Tue 6 Louise;  Wed 7 mat Madam Butterfly;  Wed 7 eve Cavalleria Rusticana & Gianni Schicchi;  Thu 8 Siegfried;  Fri 9 Otello;  Sat 10 mat Magic Flute;  Sat 10 e Faust.

Glasgow, w/c 12 November:  Mon 12 Aïda;  Tue 13 Mastersingers;  Wed 14 mat Samson and Delilah;  Wed 14 eve Savitri & Perfect Fool;  Thu 15 Tosca;  Fri 16 Bohème;  Sat 17 mat Fête Galante & Bosun's Mate;  Sat 17 eve Phoebus and Pan & Gianni Schicchi.

Glasgow, w/c 19 November:  Mon 19 Faust;  Tue 20 Otello;  Wed 21 mat Hansel and Gretel;  Wed 21 eve Aïda;  Thu 22 Pelléas and Mélisande;  Fri 23 Fête Galante & Boatswain's Mate;  Sat 24 mat Cav & Pag;  Sat 24 eve Magic Flute.

Edinburgh, w/c 26 November:  Mon 26 Aïda;  Tue 27 Louise;  Wed 28 mat Fête Galante & Boatswain's Mate;  Wed 28 eve Phoebus and Pan & Gianni Schicchi;  Thu 29 Pelléas and Mélisande;  Fri 30 Savitri & Perfect Fool;  Sat 31 mat Magic Flute;  Sat 31 eve Madam Butterfly.

Performance Cast

Woglinde a Rhinemaiden

Doris Lemon (Mar 19)

Wellgunde a Rhinemaiden

May Blyth (Mar 19)

Flosshilde a Rhinemaiden

Muriel Brunskill (Mar 19)

Alberich a Nibelung

William Michael (Mar 19)

Wotan leader of the gods

Robert Parker (Mar 19)

Fricka wife of Wotan and goddess of marriage

Edna Thornton (Mar 19)

Freia sister of Fricka and goddess of love and spring

Elsy Treweek (Mar 19)

Fasolt a giant

Robert Radford (Mar 19)

Fafner a giant

Norman Allin (Mar 19)

Froh god of joy and youth

Tudor Davies (Mar 19)

Donner god of thunder

Frederic Collier (Mar 19)

Loge god of fire and cunning

Walter Hyde (Mar 19)

Mime a Nibelung, Alberich's brother

Sydney Russell (Mar 19)

Erda goddess of earth and wisdom

Muriel Brunskill (Mar 19)

Performance DatesRheingold 1923

Map List

Coliseum | Glasgow

19 Mar, 19.30

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