Opera Scotland

Phoebus and Pan 1923British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Phoebus and Pan

Phoebus and Pan was received with enthusiasm in 1918 as a brief entertainment to follow after performances of La bohème. It was an adaptation of Bach by the young Eugene Goossens and benefited from beautiful designs in French eighteenth century pastoral mode. Frank Mullings revealed an unsuspected talent for comedy, and several of the performers, especially Pan, also had to show a talent for dance.  In 1923 it was usually played before Pagliacci and on some occasions before Gianni Schicchi.

It seems that the performance was dominated by an uproariously funny interpretation of Midas by the dramatic tenor Frank Mullings, more usually associated with such powerfully serious parts as Tristan, Otello and Canio.  It must have been particularly enjoyable for the audience, as well as for him, on this tour as he usually played the comedy at the start of the entertainment before doing a quick change to something completely different, for Canio after the interval.



Saturday evenings in Glasgow during the Winter season frequently offered competition for musical audiences.  In the case of the Bach and Puccini double bill on Satiurday, 17 November, the Scottish Orchestra played a very enthusiastically reviewed concert  in St Andrew's Hall.  This featured the local debut of conductor Serge Koussevitzki. The programme was a first half of Mozart (Eine kleine Nachtmusik); Wagner (Overture & Venusberg Ballet Tannhäuser); and Strauss (Til Eulenspiegel).  The second part was Tchaikovsky (Symphony no6 Pathetique).

Three nights later, on Tuesday, he conducted a second programme consisting of music by Handel, CPE Bach and modern Russian pieces (including music from Rimsky-Korsakov's Coq d'Or), This programme ended with Brahms (Symphony no 4).  Both concerts had to be rehearsed by this unfamiliar conductor in the time available from the assembly of the musicians the previous Thursday.


Critical Response (Spring)

The Scotsman of Monday, 12 March (p6) commented on the previous Saturday's performances.  These were Il Trovatore in the evening, with a double bill at the matinee of Phoebus and Pan followed by Pagliacci:

'Another welcome revival was provided by the British National Opera Company on Saturday afternoon, in the stage version of Bach's cantata Phoebus and Pan.  The cantata was written by Bach in a spirit of jest, and addittional point was given to the jest when the work was prepared for the stage for Sir Thomas Beecham, by giving it the form of an open-air opera or masque devised in hat the eighteenth century called the ''Classick Taste,'' and performed in the presence of a select eighteenth century audience.

'It is the old story of how Midas preferred the music of Pan to that of Apollo, and was punished by having his ears transformed by the incensed god into those of an ass.  Mr Walter Hyde, as Phoebus,  performed the stately music of the part with fine effect, and Mr William Michael, as Pan, sang and danced with great liveliness.

'The outstanding success of the performance, however, was Mr Frank Mullings as the unlucky Midas, vociferous in his praise of themusic of Pan, and in his delight breaking into dance steps which elicited shouts of laughter from the audience.  A great dramatic artist, Mr Mullings is possessed of no less remarkable powers as a comedian.

'Of the other characters, Miss Muriel Brunskill as Mercury, Miss Doris Lemon as Momus, and Mr Browning Mummery as Tmolus, were all fine.  The cantata has been expanded in the stage version by a good deal of ballet music, and the dancing of the ballet was very delightful, the Misses Eily Gerald and Olive Joyner, as ''Day'' and ''Night'' being particularly graceful.  The gambols of the fauns attendant upon Pan were also very entertaining.'

At the end of the Pagliacci review is a statement that 'Both operas were conducted by Mr Aylmer Buesst.'


Glasgow In the Autumn

The Glasgow Herald of Thursday, 1 November (p10) reviewed the previous afternoon's double bill in which Pagliacci was preceded by Phoebus and Pan:

Yesterday the British National Opera Company gave their customary mid-week matinee performance, the programme consisting of Bach's Phoebus and Pan and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.  If there is virtue in contrast, and of course there is then this combination of items ought to furnish one of the most attractive and compelling of double ''bills,'' for it provides as great a contrast as could be imagined.  But the two works are so entirely and fundamentally different that to pass from one to the other with only a short interval between requires a more violent effort of mental adjustment than is commonly called for.

'They are really an ill-assorted pair but it is not easy to suggest any other item in the present repertoire which would make an ideal companion number to Phoebus and Pan.  Perhaps the British National Opera company might consider for their next visit the providing of an entire Bach programme for one of their matinees with Phoebus and Pan as the closing item preceded by a miscellaneous Bach programme to include say, a Brandenburg Concerto and other similar numbers the orchestra being allowed to tread the boards for the occasion.  Perhaps our local Bach Society would be willing to guarantee an audience if the Company required this as they probably would.

'Meantime it is certainly much better to have Phoebus and Pan linked with a modern Italian tragedy of low life than not to have it at all.  The performance yesterday afternoon had many good points and was disappointing in one or two particulars.  Mr Raymond Ellis was not happily cast as Phoebus.  He did not look sufficiently god-like and radiant, and was vocally scarcely at ease in his contest-song.  The lyrical requirements of a Bach aria of the slow and sustained kind should include more of the purely instrumental style than Mr Ellis brought to his perormance yesterday and the lack of this more-than-customary evenness of phrase robbed his solo of some of its characteristic beauty.

Mr Frank Mullings made a highly successful reappearance as Midas,  and amid all his buffooneries during ''Pan's a Master,'' never allowed his singing to suffer.  Mr William Michael sang ''To gladness from sadness.'' splendidly, and the dancing of his ''goat-foot clan'' made a delightful accompaniment.  Miss Doris Lemon,  Miss Muriel Brunskill and Mr Browning Mummery, also sang well, Momus's Song being especially enjoyable.

'The chorus work was good, and the dancing, led by Miss Eily Gerald and Miss Olive Joyner, was full of charm.  The orchestra, as on Monday evening, were inclined to be ragged, and much of their work lacked point and sounded dull.    Their playing suggested the need for rehearsal.  Probably one would suffice to pull things together, but it should not be forgotten that the earlier scores of Bach and Mozart by reason of the clarity of their idiom are more in need of regular attention than the modern works......

'Mr Aylmer Buesst conducted both operas.'


A Second Glasgow Report

The Glasgow Herald review of Monday, 19 November (p8) also reported on the Saturday performances, including the Scottish premieres of Fete Galante and The Boatswain's Mate as well as Gianni Schicchi, which was coupled with Phoebus and Pan:

'For the curious among opera-goers (who are not as numerous as they might be) the British National Opera Company provided in the Theatre Royal on Saturday afternoon another double bill of novelties.  Dame Ethel Smyth was the composer on this occasion, and her two operas were almost as widely contrasted in theme and treatment as are the two remarkable works of Holst which have lent distinction to the current opera season in Glasgow.

'The operatic double-bill has seldom been so attractive as it was on Saturday evening.  Bach to Puccini, and doubtless many of those in the crowded audience at the Theatre Royal, wondered how the modern Italian idiom would sound after the music of the old master.  There could be no doubt when they rose to go home that they were thoroughly satisfied with the entertainment, for not only was Bach's work as delightful as ever in all its aspects, but the new Puccini opera on its second hearing deepened the very favourable impression it had already made in Glasgow..........

'In Phoebus and Pan the outstanding feature was the comic acting of Mr Frank Mullings as Midas.  The opera-goer who knows Mr Mullings only in such characters as Tristan, Radames or Canio, little knows the resources of the great tenor in exploiting the lighter side of drama.  He was irresistibly funny on Saturday, his imitation of the ballet dancer and the famous ''Pan's the Master'' song, delivered with rare gusto - sending the audience into transports of delight.  The other characters were well-sustained also by Miss Doris Lemon, Mr Raymond Ellis, Mr Browning Mummery, Mr William Michael, and Miss Constance Willis.

'The ballet with Miss Eily Gerald and Miss Olive Joyner as the leading dancers, was a beautiful spectacle, and although the orchestral playing lacked finish, and was not always sufficiently alert.  It was a real joy to hear Bach's music.  Mr Aylmer Buesst conducted.'


A Brief Edinburgh Perspective

The Scotsman review of Monday, 19 November reported on the Saturday performances, including Scottish premieres of Fête Galante and The Boatswain's Mate as well as Gianni Schicchi, which was coupled with Phoebus and Pan:

'During the present season the British National Opera Company has been very enterprising in giving to Glsgow opera-goers an opportunity of enjoying works only too rarely heard, as well as several entirely new.  Already they have added to their repertory two operas of Holst and one of Puccini, and on Saturday afternoon they gave first performances in Scotland of Dame Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante and The Bo'sun's Mate.........

'The evening attractions were Bach's Phoebus and Pan and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.  Superbly mounted, both operas were effectively and artistically interpreted and evoked rounds of applause.  All the principals acquitted themselves with distinction.  Mr Frank Mullings, as Midas, displayed a rare fund of humour.  That accomplished dancer Miss Eily Gerald gave a splendid exhibition of her art in Phoebus and Pan, and was time and again recalled.

In the difficult title role in Gianni Schicchi, Mr Herbert Langley created a good impression.  The orchestra and chorus were highly meritorious in both operas.''


The Edinburgh View

The Scotsman notice of Thursday, 29 November (p8) was headlined 'A Day of Novelties':

'What is probably a unique event in the musical annals of Edinburgh took place yesterday - the presentation of three operass which had not before been heard in the city.  In the afternoon Dame Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante and The Boatswain's Mate were given, while at night Puccini's Gianni Schicchifollowed Bach's Phoebus and Pan.  The audience in the afternoon might have been larger, although allowance must be made for the difficulty for many people in attending a mid-week matinee.  It was, however, larger than many an audience at an evening performance of a new opera a few years ago and it entered readily into the spirit of the unfamiliar music.  At night the theatre was crowded, and the reception of Puccini's opera was enthusiastic..........

'At night, Phoebus and Pan was given with a cast mainly familiar.  Mr Raymond Ellis, however, appeared as Phoebus, singing the gracious music of the part effectively.  Mr Frank Mullings gave his inimitable impersonation of Midas; Mr William Michael was delightful as Pan, and the Momus of Miss Doris Lemon, the Mercury of Miss Muriel Brunskill, the Tmolus of Mr Browning Mummery, and the dancing of Miss Emily Gerald and of Miss Olive Joyner, made up a beautiful performance of a work which it is to be hoped will long hold a place in the repertory of the British National Opera Company.'


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


Frank Mullings (Mar 10 m; Oct 31 m; Nov 17 e, 28 e)

Phoebus the god Apollo

Walter Hyde (Mar 10 m)

Raymond Ellis (Oct 31 m; Nov 17 e, 28 e)

Pan god of shepherds

William Michael (Mar 10 m; Oct 31 m; Nov 17 e, 28 e)

Tmolus a mountain-god

Browning Mummery (Mar 10 m; Oct 31 m; Nov 17 e, 28 e)


Doris Lemon (Mar 10 m; Oct 31 m; Nov 17 e, 28 e)


Muriel Brunskill (Mar 10 m; Oct 31 m; Nov 28 e)

Constance Willis (Nov 17 e)

Production Cast


Aylmer Buesst (Mar 10 m; Oct 31 m; Nov 17 e)


George King

Performance DatesPhoebus and Pan 1923

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

10 Mar, 14.00 28 Nov, 19.30

Coliseum | Glasgow

21 Mar, 19.30 29 Mar, 19.30

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

31 Oct, 14.00 17 Nov, 19.30

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2024

Site by SiteBuddha