Opera Scotland

Boatswain's Mate 1923British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Boatswain's Mate

An interesting double bill of two short operas by Dame Ethel Smyth.  Perhaps she is best known for the full length opera The Wreckers, premiered in Germany in Edwardian times.  But as a keen Suffragette she composed the ''March of the Women'', which appears in the Overture to The Boatswain's Mate, though it has enjoyed independent life since then.  The Boatswain's Mate was also scheduled for a premiere in Germany, but the outbreak of war prevented that, and it was, at last, heard in London in 1916.

Fête Galante was a more recent work, and it seems to have rather bemused people, as it is perhaps too lightweight to bear the serious tragedy at its heart.



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 than the opinion of the Scotsman critic:

'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 Boatswain's Mate is founded on Mr W W Jacobs's story of the same name, and, possessing all the humorous qualities which have endeared the works of this writer to so large a circle of readers, furnishes a very amusing stage production.

'It was really well acted by Mr Walter Hyde as the typical Jacobs plotter whose gifts as a conspirator are so hopelessly inadequate; by Miss Beatrice Miranda as the desirable widow who can look after herself; and by Mr William Michael as the go-between who wins all.  Miss Norah Roy as Mary Ann had little to do, but did it well, and Mr William Anderson was amusing as the Policeman.  There was a good small chorus of genially intoxicated agricultural labourers, with Mr Eric Fort and a concertina to inspire their song.  Tribute should be paid once again in this connection to a grand opera company that can so happily adapt itself to low comedy conditions.

'The work is in two parts, the first of which contains a large proportion of dialogue, while the second has a full musical setting.  It would have been better if the plan adopted in the first part had been followed all through, for a large proportion of the dialogue does not call for music - is indeed hampered by it, and without it the comedy would certainly move more swiftly.

'Such phrasers as ''I wish I had mended my socks!'' will always be more eloquent spoken than sung.  When the music is allied to an appropriate text it is quite effective, and there are some genuinely humorous touches, as when the orchestra announces the ''Motto'' theme from Beethoven's fifth symphony while the Policeman is knocking at the door.  The song in the first scene, ''What if I were young again, careless and gay!'' has just escaped being a very ordinary piece of music.

Mr Leslie Heward conducted both works with entire success, and the orchestra gave a good account of the jolly overture to The Boatswain's Mate.  There was a moderately large audience, who expressed their appreciation of the charm of the first work and the humour of the second in decided fashion.'


Glasgow (as seen from Edinburgh)

The Scotsman review of Monday, 19 November reported on the Saturday performances, including Scottish premieres of Fete 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.........

'Of a vastly different type is The Bo'sun's Mate,  dramatised by Dame Ethel Smyth from W W acobs's story of the same name.  It concerns the love of Harry Benn, an ex-bo'sun, for a widowed landlady who, one infers, would have a ''stocking'' well filled from the proceeds of a comfortable little inn, The Beehive.

'The music is cleverly adapted to the theme and is of a rollicking, care-free character throughout.  It proved a most amusing piece of entertainment, and though at times it verged upon farce,  after all it is not meant to be taken seriously.  It is difficult to realis the members of the Opera Company in such a setting, but it is a tribute to their art that they were perfectly at their ease in their various parts, and seemed to enjoy themselves as much as did the audience.

'Mr Walter Hyde took the part of the bo'sun, whose conspiracy to win a bride proved such a failure.  His voice, as usual, was all that could be desired.  As his well-intentioned friend, Ned Travers, Mr William Michael was in very good form.  The part of the still beautiful and extremely capable widow was taken by Miss Beatrice Miranda, whose clever acting and rich voice made the most of the character.  Mary Ann and the Policeman were capably presented by Miss Norah Roy and Mr William Anderson.

'Both operas were ably conducted by Mr Leslie Heward, who, with the principals, was recalled several times.  Curiosity as to the character of the new works was probably partly responsible for the size of the audience, which filled the house in every part, and their enthusiasm signified unmistakably that they were well satisfied.'



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..........

'Most people are acquainted with the story of The Boatswain's Mate, how Harry Benn, one of Mr Jacob's inimitable sailor-men, child-like, yet full of guile, set out to figure in the character of a hero in the eyes of Mrs Waters, landlady of ''The Beehive,'' by persuading Ned Travers, an ex-soldier, to make a pretended burglarious attack upon the the inn, and how Benn, horrified at the fancied tragic outcome of his machinations, fetched the local policeman, only to discover that no murder had been done, and that Mrs Waters evidently preferred the ex-soldier to himself.

'It is an amusing tale, and Dame Ethel Smyth has written music to it which is full of humour.  Not inappropriately, some reminiscences of popular tunes have found their way into the score, ''Oh, dear, what can the matter be,'' ''When the bloom is on the rye,'' and ''Villikins and his Dinah.''  There is a little more than a hint of these melodies, possibly no more than a half-conscious recollection.  The employment of the opening phrase of Beethoven's C Minor Symphony to accompany the Policeman's knock at the inn door, on the other hand, is a good musical joke.

'Yesterday afternoon the artists of the British National Opera Company appearing in the work displayed excellent and little-suspected powers of comedy.  Miss Beatrice Miranda, as the capable, bustling Mrs Waters, keeping the not wholly disinterested Harry Benn at a distance, was very entertaining.  Harry Benn himself, grizzled elderly seaman, in whom it was difficult to recognise Mr Walter Hyde, was delightful in the unctuous humour of the part; and the Ned Travers of Mr William Michael, jaunty, good-hearted, impudent ex-soldier, who makes a speedy conquest of Mrs Waters, was equally good.  Mr William Anderson, chiefly associated in the public mind with high priests and similar august personalities, was delightful as a pompous country policeman; and the Mary Ann of Miss Norah Roy was also amusing.

'One of the best things in the opera is a chorus of intoxicated agricultural labourers, equipped with various musical instruments.  But everything in the opera is entertaining, and under the direction of Mr Leslie Heward, who also conducted the Fête Galante, it went with a fine swing.'


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 & Boatswin'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

Harry Benn ex-boatswain

Walter Hyde (Nov 17 m, 28 m)

Ned Travers ex-soldier

William Michael (Nov 17 m, 28 m)

Mrs Waters Landlady of 'The Beehive'

Beatrice Miranda (Nov 17 m, 28 m)

Mary Ann a servant girl

Norah Roy (Nov 17 m, 28 m)


William Anderson (Nov 17 m, 28 m)

Production Cast


Leslie Heward (Nov 17 m, 28 m)


George King

Performance DatesBoatswain's Mate 1923

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

17 Nov, 14.00

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

28 Nov, 14.00

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