Opera Scotland

Fête Galante 1923British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Fête Galante

This is the first, tragic, half of a double bill of short operas by Dame Ethel Smyth.  The second work is broadly comic The Boatswain's Mate.  They do not appear to have been conceived as a pair - the comedy was composed several years earlier, with a London premiere in 1916.  However as the BNOC were also launching a double-bill of one-acters by Holst it seems logical to make a second pairing.

The unnamed Scotsman critic is generally enthusiastc about both works and their performances.  He shows an encouraging degree of professionalism by travelling to Glasgow to catch the first performance, knowing he can get a second hearing a few days later. This is always a very useful thing to do if it is possible, as the music feels so much more familiar second time round.

The Herald critic, with only a single hearing, clearly doesn't enjoy the music, though he admires the performances and the production.


Glasgow (as seen from Edinburgh)

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

'During the present season the British National Opera Company has been very enterprising in giving to Glasgow 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.

'In Fête Galante, the composer has chosen a subject  which gives much scope for orchestra and singers.  The curtain goes up on a moonlight garden in which the gay revels of a Royal festival are taking place, and the story tells of how the loves of a King and Queen are interwoven with those of Pierrot and Columbine.  The Queen is loved by a masked courtier, and Pierrot in his unselfish devotion to her, attempts to save them from the vengeance of the King and so himself suffers the extreme penalty.

'The music is, at first, of subdued gaiety, with the stately and occasionally sparkling theme of the dance constantly appearing, but as the tragedy proceeds the sombre element grows stronger and, at last, when in the dim moonlight Columbine sinks beside the body of her well-loved Pierrot, nothing remains to suggest the earlier gaieties.

'The opening ballet is a picture of courtly beauty, and the setting and lighting of the stage carries out to perfection the dream-like, unreal atmosphere.  As the Queen, Miss Constance Willis showed herself both an accomplished actress and the fortunate possessor of a very beautiful voice.  Miss Doris Lemon, dainty and graceful in every movement, and with a clear, pure tone, took the part of Columbine, who lived to regret her betrayal of Pierrot, personated by Mr Raymond Ellis.  A new-comer to the opera company, Mr Joseph Farrington sang with great effect the small part of the neglected King.  Mr Tudor Davies and Mr Browning Mummery completed the principal roles as the Lover and Harlequin.'



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.

'But there the parallel ceases,  for the music Dame Ethel has written for Fête Galante and The Boatswain's Mate is singularly deficiend in those individual qualities which make her so interesting as a personality and as a writer of prose.  Even when proper allowance is made for the slighter musical needs of these two operas they are still a little disappointng on the musical side.

'Fête Galante is distinctly the more interesting of the two.  It is defined as a Dance Dream in one act, and provides a rather difficult subject for musical treatment in that the dream-like, fantastic atmosphere which pervades the whole has its unreality disturbed by a very disturbed by a very ordinary example of illicit lovemaking on the part of the Queen.  This obtrusive  element is further emphasised by the introduction at the close of a very practical hangman's rope which it is difficult to reconcile with the poetic and fanciful nature of the rest of the production.

'As Pierrot very rightly chooses to die by his own dagger rather than submit to the degradation of hanging it would surely have been possible to rouse him to this heroic resolve by something less sordid in its associations.  It is difficult also not to regard his self-sacrifice as a piece of foolish heroism, for though Columbine believes her Pierrot loves the Queen, the King does not think so, and there is nothing but Pierrot's prevailing moodiness to give any suggestion of it.

'In providing a musical setting for this inconvenient mixture of fancy and reality Dame Ethel has rightly relied upon old-fashioned dance measures, which provide the musical foundation for the greater part of the opera.  These are often quite charmingly contrived, and the music in general flows along very pleasantly, but the depth of feeling which culminates in a tragedy is not fully expressed in the score at any point.

'There is a beautiful stage setting, the work of Mr Oliver P Bernard, and the constant flitting to and fro of the various fancily clad figures provides a lively and interesting picture.  Altogether the production is highly creditable to the company.  The chief characters in the little drama were all well cast.  Miss Doris Lemon was particularly enjoyable as Columbine, singing well, dancing neatly, and doing everything with significance.  Here is the part most entitled to sympathy, and she succeeded in arousing it.

'If one got a little impatient with Mr Raymond Ellis as the moody Pierrot the fault was not his.  He sang well, and cleverly suggested by his demeanour the difficulties of his position.  Miss Constance Willis as the Queen and Mr Tudor Davies as the Lover, also sang well and made the most of their love scene.  In the final tableau the Queen's attitude as she ''stands rigid'' was rather awkwardly expressive.  Mr Joseph Farrington sang finely as the King.  The singing of the chorus was good and the dancing was delightful.'



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 operas 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 Schicchi followed 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.

'There is a singular difference between Dame Ethel Smyth's two operas.  The Fête Galante is a delicate, rather elusive, little tragic episode;  The Boatswain's Mate is the broadest of broad comedies, and Dame Ethel Smyth has entered heartily into the humours of the story by Mr W W Jacobs, which she has taken as her text.

'The Fete Galante deals with the fickleness and jealousy of an actress in the theatrical troupe of an eighteenth-century Court.  The players entertain the Court circle at a masked ball with a performance in which Columbine forsakes Pierrot for Harlequin and Pierrot kills himself.  The simulate tragedy has its counterpart in reality, for Columbine jilts Pierrot, her adorer, in favour of Harlequin, and Pierrot is left inconsolable.  An exiled lover of the Queen takes advantage of the opportunities afforded by the disguises afforded by the masked ball to return dressed as a Pierrot.  Columbine sees her supposed rejected lover with the Queen in his arms, and informs the King.  The King, confident that the player is not the offender, charges him to disclose the identity of the Queen's lover, and, when the chivalrous player refuses, orders him to be hanged.  Pierrot, however, kills himself, and Columbine, her fit of jealousy passed, is left the victim of unavailing remorse.

To this story Dame Ethel Smyth has supplied music which contains much that is graceful, although the effect is occasionally a little marred by a rather restless orchestration.  There is a very pretty dance as the curtain rises, and there is some pleasant love music.  Miss Doris Lemon acted and sang attractively as Columbine;  The Pierrot of Mr Raymond Ellis was vocally and dramatically worthy of his reputation as a versatile and accomplished artist;  Mr Tudor Davies was admirable as the lover, and Miss Constance Willis as the Queen,  Mr Joseph Farrington as the King, and Mr Browning Mummery as Harlequin were all good.  Miss Eily Gerald, as the dancer, was, as usual, exquisite.'    

Mr Leslie Heward conducted both operas.


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


Doris Lemon (Nov 17 m, 28 m)


Constance Willis (Nov 17 m, 28 m)


Raymond Ellis (Nov 17 m, 28 m)


Joseph Farrington (Nov 17 m, 28 m)


Tudor Davies (Nov 17 m, 28 m)


Browning Mummery (Nov 17 m, 28 m)

Performance DatesFête Galante 1923

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

17 Nov, 14.00

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

28 Nov, 14.00

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