Opera Scotland

Zauberflöte 1922British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Magic Flute

The Magic Flute was really gaining in popularity since the Dent translation became available shortly before the Great War.  The enthusiam of the Scotsman critic seems extraordinary, but clearly the packed houses thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  The quality of the singers is clearly very high, though nowadays we rarely expect to hear Wagnerian voices in these parts, except perhaps for the Sarastro and Monostatos.

This was the first occasion on which the strikingly modern set and lighting design of Oliver P Bernard was seen, and the result was very well received.  Apart from the attractive visual side of the production, this design permitted rapid scene changes of a kind that most opera-goers could take for granted by the end of the century. 


The Edinburgh View

The first performance of The Magic Flute on this Scottish tour was on a Tuesday evening in the second Edinburgh week.  The Scotsman the next day reviewed it - Wednesday, 15 March (p8):

After The Mastersingers of the previous evening, and Parsifal and Samson and Delilah last week, it might perhaps be somewhat invidious to say that last night, in The Magic Flute, the artists of the National Opera surpassed everything which they have done during their present visit to Edinburgh.  It was, however, a wonderfully fine performance.  Comparison, indeed, is scarcely possible, for there are so many factors to be taken into account.  It is sufficient to say that the members of the company have done nothing better.

'The King's Theatre was packed in every corner, and from the first scene to the last, the performance proceeded in an atmosphere of increasing enthusiasm, there being usually triple recalls after each fall of the curtain.  Comparing the performance of the opera with those which have been given on other occasions, it may fairly be said that not one of those earlier performances has approached that of last night.  With the best of them there has always been some weak point; a Queen of Night who could only with difficulty reach the phenomenally high notes contained in her music, a Sarastro who was not sufficiently sonorous, an unsatisfactory Tamino, or a Papageno or Monostatos deficient in the spirit of comedy.  Last night there was no weak point in the cast, and the playing of the orchestra compared with the best orchestral work that has been heard in Edinburgh.

'Mr Walter Hyde as Tamino and Miss Mignon Nevada were perfectly suited in their rôles.  Vocally and dramatically their work was instinct with grace and charm, and from the point of mere dramatic illusion, it was a pleasure to see so handsome a pair of lovers.  Mr Robert Radford's Sarastro was magnificent alike in the sonorous delivery of the music of the part and in its dignity of impersonation.

'Miss Gertrude Johnson's Queen of Night was quite the best rendering of the part which has been given in Edinburgh at least for many years.  The music of the part lies so high and is so florid, that ordinarily the listener hopes, with no great confidence, that the singer may be able to get through it with no serious shortcomings.  Last night, however, every note was as clear as a bell, and the music was sung with an apparent absence of effort which was as rare as it was enjoyable.

'The Papageno of Mr Raymond Ellis proved him to be an admirable comedian as well as a good singer, and he danced with a light grace decidedly uncommon among operatic artists.  He had a fitting mate in the Papagena of Miss Olive Townend.  The Monostatos of Mr Sydney Russell gave an excellent Idea of that enigmatic personage, droll and malignant;  and Mr Albert Chapman was impressive as the Hierophant.

'In an opera in which every rôle is exacting,  the subordinate characters make heavy demand upon those charged with their impersonation, and great praise is due to the Misses Eda Bennie, May Blyth, and Evelyn Arden in the Three Ladies,  to the Misses Ethel Elmes, Peggy Mitchen, and Maude Sykes, as the Three Boys, and to Messrs Frederic Rickitt and Philip Bertram, who doubled the rôles of the two Priests and the Men in Armour.  Mr Percy Pitt conducted, and under his direction the opera was given with the utmost finish and dignity.

'Designed by Mr Oliver Bernard, last night's setting of the opera was novel and singularly impressive.  The back of the stage was hung with dark draperies, the tone of which was varied by means of the lighting, while sufficient scenic suggestion was afforded by conventionalised groups of rocks, or imposing doorways, as the situation required.  It was a method of staging which was perfectly suited to the character of the music, and it had the additional merit of avoiding the jarring effect which is produced where it becomes necessary to make a sudden change in the scenery, as where the Queen of Night appears - swiftly, and without noise, the curtains were withdrawn and the Queen appeared, projected against an expanse of sky.  It is to be hoped that in the course of time,  Mr Bernard may be able to devise settings of a like simplicity and impressiveness for other operas.'


The Opening of the Next Edinburgh Season

The Scotsman of Tuesday, 21 November (p4) welcomed the first performance of The Magic Flute:

'Everyone with the best interests of music at heart must have experienced a feeling of satisfaction at seeing the British National Operas Company enter upon its second Edinburgh season last night under such encouraging conditions.  Every seat in the King's Theatre was filled and the enthusiasm of the audience led to the artistes' appearances before the curtain to an extent which was, no doubt, in every respect flattering and encouraging, but which rather interfered with the dramatic effect.   It was good, however, to see such enthusiasm, even if it had its inconvenient aspects, for it is upon enthusiasm, turned in a practical direction that such an organisation as the British National Opera Company depends for its existence.

'The British National Opera Company, however, deserves well of the public.  Still in its early days, it must perforce go cautiously, and, in the language of billiiards, to a great extent play for safety.  With commendable courage, however, it has dispensed with several of the more familiar operas, and has included in the repertory Wagner's Siegfried,  Charpentier's Louise, of which there have been a few performances in Edinburgh;  Puccini's Tosca, not yet familiar to the point of being hackneyed, and, of course, Parsifal.

'After the memorable performances of Wagner's last opera, during the Company's previoud visit,  there would have been great disappointment had another opportunity of hearing Parsifal not been provided.  In its personnel the Company is as interesting as before.  There are a number of the outstanding personalities of the Beecham days;  there are the newcomers of last season, fulfilling the promise of which they then gave evidence, and there are still later recruits, from whom fine things may be anticipated.

'Last night's performance of The Magic Flute was in excellent keeping with the great traditions of which the members of the British National Opera Company are the heirs.  Every feature of what is perhaps the most extraordinary opera that was ever written, was admirably brought out, the lofty exaltation of its serious moments, and the joviality which mingles so unceremoniously with the solemn.

'Mr Tudor Davies as Tamino showed a marked advance upon his work of last season, and the Pamina of Miss Sarah Fischer was instinct with charm.  Last season there was occasion to remark thar in Miss Gertrude Johnson the Company numbered in its ranks a soprano who could sing the music of the Queen of Night with certainty and without perceptible effort, and last night her rendering of the enormously difficulr music was again delightful.

'As Papagena Miss Isabel Rhys-Parker was quite delightful in the gaiety with whish infused her impersonation.  Mr Robert Radford's Sarastro was as imposing, vocally and dramatically, as ever;  and Mr Raymond Ellis's Papageno and Mr Sydney Russel's Monostatos were again great successes, while Mr Frederic Collier made an impressive Hierophant.

'The Three Ladies were excellently represented by the Misses Eda Bennie, May Blyth and Muriel Brunskill, and there was an equal effectiveness in the three Genie of the Misses Ethel Elmes, Peggy Mitchell, and Maude Sykes.  The strange music assigned to the two armed men, in which Mozart seems to anticipate something of the harmonic methods of the present day, was admirably sung by Messrs Frederic Rickitt and Philip Bertram.

'Mr Percy Pitt conducted, and the orchestra was all that could be desired.  The setting of the opera was the same as last season, a simple scheme of draperies and conventionalised architectural features which is highly impressive.'


BNOC in Scotland - 1922 (Spring and Autumn)

This first season saw BNOC coming to Scotland twice. The spring visit, in March, consisted of three weeks in Edinburgh (King's Theatre).  In the autumn there were four weeks - two at Glasgow Theatre Royal, and two more in Edinburgh.

A total number of nineteen operas were included  - an astonishing number for a newly established company.  Wagner far outweighs any other composers, most notably Verdi:

They were by Mozart (Magic Flute);  Wagner (Tannhäuser,  Tristan and Isolde,   MastersingersValkyrieSiegfriedParsifal); Verdi (Aïda); Saint-Saêns (Samson and Delilah); Gounod (Faust); Offenbach (Goldsmith of Toledo);  Bizet (Carmen); Leoncavallo (Pagliacci); Puccini (BohèmeToscaMadam Butterfly); Debussy (Prodigal Son);  Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana); Charpentier (Louise).

The schedule was as follows:


Edinburgh, w/c 6 March:  Mon 6 Aida;  Tue 7 Parsifal;  Wed 8 mat Cav & Pag;  Wed 8 eve Tannhäuser; Thu 9 Carmen;  Fri 10 Samson and Delilah;  Sat 11 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 11 eve Faust.

Edinburgh, w/c 13 March:  Mon 13 Mastersingers;  Tue 14 Magic Flute;  Wed 15 mat Samson and Delilah;  Wed 15 eve Carmen; Thu 16 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Fri 17 Madam Butterfly;  Sat 18 mat Bohème;  Sat 18 eve Aïda.

Edinburgh, w/c 20 March:  Mon 20 Parsifal;  Tue 21 Samson and Delilah;  Wed 22 mat Parsifal;  Wed 22 eve Bohème; Thu 23 Mastersingers;  Fri 24 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Sat 25 mat Aïda;  Sat 25 eve Carmen.


Glasgow, w/c 6 November:  Mon 6 Parsifal;  Tue 7 Magic Flute;  Wed 8 mat Tosca;  Wed 8 eve Faust;  Thu 9 Louise;  Fri 10 Samson and Delilah;  Sat 11 mat Bohème;  Sat 11 eve Prodigal Son & Pagliacci.

Glasgow, w/c 13 November:  Mon 13 Aïda;  Tue 14 Goldsmith of Toledo;  Wed 15 mat Parsifal;  Wed 15 eve Magic Flute; Thu 16 Mastersingers;  Fri 17 Louise;  Sat 18 mat Madam Butterfly;  Sat 18 eve Faust.

Edinburgh, w/c 20 November:  Mon 20 Magic Flute;  Tue 21 Valkyrie;  Wed 22 mat Bohème;  Wed 22 eve Samson and Delilah; Thu 23 Aïda;  Fri 24 Louise;  Sat 25 mat Faust;  Sat 25 eve Tosca.

Edinburgh, w/c 27 November:  Mon 27 Siegfried;  Tue 28 Tristan and Isolde;  Wed 29 mat Magic Flute;  Wed 29 eve Goldsmith of Toledo; Thu 30 Louise;  Fri 1 Dec Bohème;  Sat 2 mat Parsifal;  Sat 2 eve Samson and Delilah.

Performance Cast

Tamino a Prince

Walter Hyde (Mar 14)

Tudor Davies (Nov 20)

First Lady in attendance on the Queen

Eda Bennie (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Second Lady in attendance on the Queen

May Blyth (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Third Lady in attendance on the Queen

Evelyn Arden (Mar 14)

Muriel Brunskill (Nov 20)

Papageno a bird-catcher

Raymond Ellis (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Queen of Night

Gertrude Johnson (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Monostatos a servant in the Temple

Sydney Russell (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Pamina daughter of the Queen of Night

Mignon Nevada (Mar 14)

Sarah Fischer (Nov 20)

First Boy

Ethel Elmes (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Second Boy

Peggy Mitchell (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Third Boy

Maude Sykes (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Speaker at the Temple

Albert Chapman (Mar 14)

Frederic Collier (Nov 20)

Sarastro High Priest of Isis and Osiris

Robert Radford (Mar 14; Nov 20)

First Priest

Frederic Rickitt (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Second Priest

Philip Bertram (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Papagena disguised as an old woman

Olive Townend (Mar 14)

Isabel Rhys Parker (Nov 20)

First Armed Man

Frederic Rickitt (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Second Armed Man

Philip Bertram (Mar 14; Nov 20)

Performance DatesZauberflöte 1922

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

14 Mar, 19.15 20 Nov, 19.00 29 Nov, 14.00

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

7 Nov, 19.00 15 Nov, 19.15

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