Opera Scotland

Samson and Delilah 1923British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Samson et Dalila

Still immensely popular, Samson and Delilah appeared on both spring and autumn tours. In the Autumn, the review of the previous evening's Mastersingers makes it clear that Walter Widdop made his first appearance as Samson, the following afternoon - (no review yet found).


The Critical Response

The Scotsman of Tuesday, 6 March (p4) gave its verdict:

'Returning to Edinburgh after only a few months absence, the British National Opera Company, which last night opened a fortnight's stay at the King's Theatre with Saint-Saëns's Samson and Delilah, on the present occasion brings with it a selection of operas which includes several very welcome revivals.  It is a considerable number of years since Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel was heard in Edinburgh, and if sheer beauty of music, both on the stage and in the orchestra, and a libretto which carries with it a strong appeal through its very simplicity, count for anything, Humperdinck's opera should prove one of the National Opera's great successes.  In its origin it belongs to days which knew nothing of The Blue Bird or Peter Pan, but it touches the heart in much the same way.

'The revival of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, with an attention to the text which brought out all the points of the comedy, and the introduction to the British public of to-day of the sparkling Seraglio, were among the triumphs of Sir Thomas Beecham's operatic management, and both works should in the current fortnight repeat their former successes in Edinburgh, while another popular revival is Phoebus and Pan, which presents John Sebastian Bach in the unfamiliar character of a humorist.  With these and other works which are better known, and all presented with that excellence of rendering in which the National Opera artists are so loyally living up to the Beecham tradition, the fortnight's performances promise a substantial addition to the public experience of opera given on the grand scale.

'Last night's rendering of Samson and Delilah presented much that was fine.  Miss Edna Thornton has made the character of Delilah peculiarly her own.  She has been long associated with it, and her performance supplies a standard by which other Delilahs are judged.  It is an interpretation which seems to gain in finish with repetition, and both in the outstanding opportunities afforded by the rôle, and in its detail, her interpretation was eminently picturesque and convincing.

'In Mr Frederick Blamey there was an unfamiliar exponent of Samson.  Vocally, it was very effective, and it increased in dramatic power as the opera proceeded.  The first scene, however, lacked somewhat of that whirlwind intensity with which it has of late been given by other tenors, and which is really required if the full significance of the situation is to be realised.

'Mr Robert Parker's High Priest, and the aged Hebrew of Mr William Anderson, were both, as was to be expected, admirable.  Mr Frederic Collier made a good Abimelech, and the various minor characters were all in keeping with the prevailing fine quality of the performance.  The chorus was also good, and the orchestra was delightful iin the exquisite music which Saint-Saëns has allotted to it.  The ballet has always been an important element in the National Opera productions, and on the present occasion, with a anew principal dancer, Miss Eily Gerald, it is as charming as ever.  The mounting of the opera was the same as before, and the final catastrophe, which occasionally fails a little of the intended effect, was well managed.  Mr Julius Harrison conducted.'


The Glasgow Verdict

The Glasgow Herald of Thursday, 29 March (p11) was generally enthusiastic:

'Yesterday the British National Opera Company gave two performances in the Glasgow Coliseum, Samson and Delilah being staged for the customary mid-week matinee, and Louise in the evening.  Both operas were heard here during the previous visit of the company, but on this aoocasion there were some important changes in the cast for the afternoon performance.

'Mr Frederick Blamey took the part of Samson, singing and acting in an appropriately big manner.  His clear and telling voice suited him excellently as the chosen leader of an oppressed people, but there were opportunities for colour in the love duet with Delilah and in some of the music of the last act which he did not fully utilise.

'Miss Edna Thornton in the familiar part of Delilah, was very much at home, and presented role with customary fullness of effect.  In this case there was an abundant store of vocal colour, and it was cunningly applied.  The Philistines owed much of their temporary success to the seductive tones of Delilah.

'Mr Andrew Shanks was duly imposing as the High Priest and sang well.  Mr frederic Collier as Abimelech was also good, and the various small parts were quite effectively bestowed.

'Samson and Delilah furnishes good opportunities for both chorus and ballet, who, indeed, provide, especially the latter, some much needed brightening of the general interest.  Both in the first act and in the highly effective closing scene the ballet danced very attractively to the attractive strains provided by Saint-Saëns.  The chorus, which was augmented by the Glasgow Grand Opera Society, sang with fine tone and a high degree of finish.  This was particularly true as regards the ladies when singing in the opening Delilah scene.  The effect of the massed chorus work in the first scene of the last act was also impressive and finely chorded.

'The orchestra, conducted by Mr Aylmer Buesst, did every justice to the clever score, and the staging was as effective as usual.  The little boy who guided the blind Samson  added much to the general effect by his intelligent participation in the changing emotions of the scene.'


An Autumn Report

The Glasgow Herald of Wednesday, 31 October (p13) reported on the second evening of the autumn tour:

'A very complete performance of Samson and Delilah was given at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, by the British National Opera Company.  It furnished indeed another example of zealous care for ensemble, this time in its larger manifestations, for every point was remembered that could contribute to the general effect, and a study of the crowded stage in the last act showed howw well everything had been thought out and was controlled.  It is true that this fine completeness was not so notably in eveidence in the first act, but the second and third acts were in all respects rendered with special success, and the whole performance must be regarded as one of the best that has been given in Glasgow.

'To this success the three chief principals largely contributed.  Miss Edna Thornton's delilah has long been recognised as a very finished study of the part, and last evening it was again a pleasure to note nthe completeness of her impersonation, gained by giving its full significance to every phrase of her music.  The range of colour in Miss Thornton's singing is notable.

'Mr Robert Parker as the High Priest was also very fine.  This part admits of no subtleties, and must make its effect by tone quality and power of declamation, and in these regards Mr Parker had no difficulty in satisfying all requirements.

'Mr Walter Hyde sang splendidly as Samson.  His impersonation of the part was full of interest. and, in the closing scene, he was more expressive than the blind Samson is often allowed to be.   The suggestion of his anxiety that the child-guiide should leave the temple before he destroyed it may be instanced as an illustration.

'The entire second act is sung by the three principals, and last evening they made themost of its dramatic possibilities, and almost made one forget the banality of some passages of the score.  The third act was worked up to a really exciting climax, and enabled the closing minutes of the opera to make their full effect.

'To this happy result all sections of the company contributed.  The chorus of aged Hebrews in Act I was very uninteresting, a fact for which the composer is not entirely to blame, but the remainder of the chorus work in this act was much better, and in the closing act the singing was all very good.  The chorus was augmented for this occasion by members of the Glasgow Grand Opera society.

'The ballet had a fine opportunity for exhibiting their powers in the temple scene, and danced in a manner worthy of the delightful ballet music.  Miss Eily Gerald was distinctive and highly interesting in her work as principal dancer.

'Finally the orchestra, who had been rather disappointing in much that they did on Monday night, returned last evening to their customary form, and under the controlling guidance of Mr Julius Harrison contributed very materially to the success of the performance.  The smaller parts were also satisfavtory.  Mr Frederic Collier sang Abimelech's solo very well.'


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


Frederick Blamey (Mar 5, 28 m)

Walter Hyde (Oct 30)

Walter Widdop (Nov 14 m)

Abimelech Satrap of Gaza

Frederic Collier (Mar 5, 28 m; Oct 30)

High Priest of Dagon

Robert Parker (Mar 5; Oct 30)

Andrew Shanks (Mar 28 m)

Hebrew Elder

William Anderson (Mar 5)

Dalila a Philistine priestess

Edna Thornton (Mar 5, 28 m; Oct 30)

Performance DatesSamson and Delilah 1923

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

5 Mar, 19.30

Coliseum | Glasgow

28 Mar, 14.00 4 Apr, 19.30

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

30 Oct, 19.15 14 Nov, 14.00

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