Opera Scotland

Gianni Schicchi 1923British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Gianni Schicchi

When introducing a new one-act opera, a company needs to decide how to fill the evening.  On this tour BNOC played two short Holst operas as a contrasting pair, and they did the same with two pieces by Ethel Smyth.  When Puccini had actually designed Gianni Schicchi to be the comic final part of a contrasting trilogy, it seems odd that BNOC management did not choose all three, or at the very least pair Schicchi with Il tabarro.  It also seems strange that Puccini himself, still, just, a living composer, permitted the company to mount it in such an experimental way.  He still had a year to live, so it seems unlikely that the effects of his advancing cancer, combined with desperation to conclude work on Turandot reduced any energy he might have been able to devote to performance of existing works.

Instead, BNOC tried two options.  For the first Glasgow performance, Schicchi followed Cavalleria Rusticana.  For the second Glasgow outing and the Edinburgh evening another comedy was chosen, the adaptation of Bach's Phoebus and Pan, already a popular item.

Given the length of the Schicchi revue, and the fact that space was required for the evening performance of Butterfly, it is perhaps no surprise that the performance of Cavalleria merits the merest mention.  No cast members, just the conductor, Herbert Withers.


A Glasgow Review

The Glasgow Herald of Thursday, 8 November (p9) highlighted the new Puccini piece as the Mascagni was already familiar to audiences:

'For many years Puccini has been represented on Glasgow operatic programmes, by the three early operas which are in the standard repertoire of all companies.  A Puccini première is therefore of special interest for that reason alone since  the composer is perhaps the most universally admired of all contemporary writers of opera.  But rumour had been bust regarding Gianni Schicchi, the new one-act opera, which the British National Opera company produced last evening at the Theatre Royal, for the first time in Englishand curiosity was doubly whetted.  The large and brilliant audience which assembled for this first performance by the company was therefore just what one would expect to find, but it was no doubt none the less gratifying to the directors of the comapny as an endorsement of their wisely directed and enterprising policy.

'Gianni Schicchi is the third of three one-act operas which occupied during the war, the first being Il Tabarro, which is tragic and the second, Suor Angelica, which is pathetic.  Gianni Schicchi is frankly comic, but the hmour is tinged with satire.  Since the story was given in our columns yesterday there is no ocasion to dwell on it now.  It forms a further excellent example of Puccini's extraordinary flair for a subject that will suit.  It would seem to be an extra faculty in his case, a faculty which some of the greatest composers entirely lacked, their operas suffering in consequence.

'Gianni Schicchi would make a first-rate acting play without a note of music, and while this fact undoubtedly and rightly is helpful to the success of his opera it would be wrong to deny the value and interest of his musical setting.  If the new work tells us nothing new regarding the composer it is still quite acceptable if it only lets us hear the familiar idiom, for Puccini's power, from his earliest works, has always consisted in his ability to sum up and express a character or a situation by means of a pregnant musical phrase.  When he deserts melody, or exceeds thr bounds of a concise rhythmic or harmonic progression he is apt to grow less eloquent, but he has wisdom, and seldom allows himself to do so.

'The score of Gianni Schicchi shows all the signs of the ripe Puccini, and is almost throughout closely knit and consistently apt as an illustration of the changing phases of the story.  This is quite an achievement, for love is the easiest thing to set to music, and there is less of love in this opera than in any other of Puccini's works.  The prevailing spiritual states calling for expression are hypocrisy, greed, and rage, and though they present a much more difficult task, particularly in the case of the first two, Puccini has risen to the occasion with remarkable success, a fact which the listeners realise at the outset, when the curtain rises on a band of hypocritical mourners.

'Here the orchestra gives out some excellent mourning music, but the obviousness of the droop in the musical phrase, and the regularity and slightly excessive poignancy of the accents tend to betray the real feeling of the mourners.  The combined hopefulness and anxiety with which this precious band of relatives are thinking about the possible details of the will is also cleverly suggested in an attractive and very useful little phrase.  The love music, though, as has been said, it occupies a smaller part than usual of the whole,  is suite attractive if not quite the finest of its kind that has come from the same pen.  Perhaps it represents the highest point to which love could soar in so pernicious an atmosphere.

'But finally, as Puccini himself would probably acknowledge, it is the performance that will make or mar a work such as Gianni Schicchi.  Last evening everything went well, and the company may be heartily congratulated on a fine achievement.  For an achievemnet it must be reckoned when members of a grand opera company can drop so completely the grand opera manner and allow the spirit not of comedy merely, but of satirical comedy, to take its place.  There are even moments when farce would be the truer name for what is required, but at no time was there any sense of unue exaggeration or of that horrible tendency so frequently exhibited to underline humour for the benefit of a dull-witted audience.

'There is a large cast, but it will not be necessary to name them all, but all must be allowed a share in the credit for a successful performance, since with very few exceptions they were on the stage all the time, and contributed even in their silences to the combined effect.  Mr Herbert Langley was excellent as Gianni, giving a very complete study of the character, and making every detail tell.  Miss Maggie Teyte and Mr Tudor Davies sang beautifully in the love scenes, and Miss Edith Clegg and Messrs Frederic Collier and William Anderson were cleverly suggestive in all they did.

'Mr Percy Pitt conducted.  The audience were kept in a continual ripple of laughter from start to finish, and the opera was very warmly received.

'The evening opened with Cavalleria Rusticana, conducted by Mr Herbert Withers.  It had a very good, though slightly unequal performance.


A Second Glasgow Visit

The Glasgow Herald review of Monday, 19 November 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.  Its view of Ethel Smyth's works was much less favourable:

'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.

'That the music aptly illustrates every incident in the story of Gianni Schicchi to those familiar with Puccini's style.  As the acting is almost as important as the singing, the composer has carefully refrained from overweighting the orchestral score, and in the splended performance conducted by Mr Percy Pitt on Saturday the personages on the stage had no difficulty in making the most of the humorous situations that arise.

'Every part in the cast was again in the hands of artists who seem ideally suited for the adequate performance of such a work.  Mr Herbert Langley has made Gianni so fine a study that one could hardly imagine the character so perfectly presented by anyone else.  Mr Tudor Davies and Miss Maggie Teyte sang the love music - pity there is so little of it - very effectively, and the other principals, who included Mr Frederic Collier, ,Mr William Anderson, and Miss Edith Clegg shared in the honours of a performance which was received with every mark of favour.'



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..........

'In Gianni Schicchi, the British Opera artists have taken to themselves another work which should be a permanent attraction.  A sparkling little comedy in which a wily thirteenth century Florentine outwits the grasping relatives of a wealthy man, the music displays Puccini, to a great extent in quite a new vein.  The love-music in the opera is the familiar Puccini, but at quite his very best.  In the remainder of the work, however, there is an infectious gaiety.

'Although a short work, it has a large cast, and it brought on many of the principals in the company.  Mr Herbert Langley was magnificent as the adroit Gianni Schicchi, and Miss Maggie Teyte as Lauretta, and Mr Tudor Davies as Rinuccio, made a delightful pair of lovers.  Another fine character was the Simone of Mr William Anderson; but everyone was good, and entered into the spirit of the sharply-drawn characters.

'Mr Percy Pitt conducted, and under his direction the opera was given with the polish and animation appropriate to its humour, at once graceful and biting.'  


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 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

Zita a cousin of Buoso, aged sixty

Edith Clegg (Nov 7 e, 17 e)

Rinuccio Zita's nephew, aged twenty-four

Tudor Davies (Nov 7 e, 17 e, 28 e)

Betto di Signa a cousin, age unknown

Frederic Collier (Nov 7 e, 17 e)

Simone a cousin, aged seventy

William Anderson (Nov 7 e, 17 e, 28 e)

Gianni Schicchi aged fifty-one

Herbert Langley (Nov 7 e, 17 e, 28 e)

Lauretta Schicchi's daughter, aged twenty-one

Maggie Teyte (Nov 7 e, 17 e, 28 e)

Performance DatesGianni Schicchi 1923

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

7 Nov, 19.30 17 Nov, 19.30

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

28 Nov, 19.30

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