Opera Scotland

Valkyrie 1927British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Walküre

BNOC was rapidly running out of money by this time - the Depression was affecting the entire economy, including, of course, ticket sales.  Despite this the company spent six weeks in Scotland, a fortnight each in Glasgow and Edinburgh, then a week in Aberdeen and Dundee.  Of the total of 48 performances, ten were of Wagner.  Two elements of the Ring were given - Glasgow and Dundee seeing The Valkyrie while Edinburgh and Aberdeen were treated to Twilight of the Gods, (or Dusk of the Gods as they called it then).

Sadly, the financial clout of cinema companies permitted them to acquire theatres up and down the country which rapidly reduced the availability of touring venues in centres like Dundee.  Even if BNOC had survived,  the theatre, as a touring destination, did not.

The complete cast for 29 September is from a programme in Glasgow's Mitchell Library.  The six leading roles and conductor for the second performance on 4 November are taken from the Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post and the Dundee Courier & Advertiser.  The Glasgow programme indicates that Norman Allin was scheduled to sing Hunding,  while the review asserts that Radford went on.  Walter Hyde had been a leading performer of Siegmund since the Covent Garden Ring of 1908.  It is interesting to note that the minor Valkyrie performers included one of the company's Butterflies (Eda Bennie) and the Manon (Marguerite Anderson).


The View from Glasgow

The Glasgow Herald review on Friday,  30 September (p12) found it to be a thrilling performance:

'What may fairly be called the great event of the opera week in Glasgow was the revival of The Valkyrie last night at the Theatre Royal by the British National Opera Company.  It is something of a grievance with many of the Company's local supporters that the word ''revival'' should be applicable to the case.  It would be wrong to say that the later Wagner has been kept from us.  Did not the BNOC begin their first Scottish tour with a production of Parsifal?  We have recurring performances of Tristan;  and The Mastersingers,  happily,  is often with us.  But we have been allowed to starve, very nearly so far as The Ring is concerned.

'It was given complete during the season in the Coliseum a good many years ago,  and a few productions of single operas have been offered since,  but they have been much too few.  No formal census of local opinion has been taken,  of course,  but a suggestion,  frequently put forward in the foyer and in other places outside the theatre is - a production of The Ring complete every second year,  with perhaps a single opera of the four in the years between.  There may be difficulties,  permanent or incidental, in the way of fulfilment, but it is at least good that the Company should know the views of a section of their Glasgow patrons.

'It is significant that last night's performance brought a very large audience and aroused unusual enthusiasm.   And the enthusiasm was not merely the expression of joy at hearing again this wonderful music,  but was further an acknowledgement of the very high quality of the whole performance.  The cast was well chosen, and had the further interest of novelty in most of the principal roles.  But the great feature of the performance was its uniform quality.

'The evening opened well, with a vivid rendering by the orchestra of the great Prelude,  which served to show within a few bars that Mr Aylmer Buesst and his players understood each other thoroughly;  and the spontaneous quality in the playing was seldom absent from any of the following work,  either in the orchestra or on the stage.  Mr Buesst has not done better on any previous appearance in Glasgow than he did last night.

'The score is one of the treasures of music,  and includes so much that is delicate and transparent in texture that it must offer special delights to a conductor willing and able to ''nurse'' it.  It has, indeed, long stretches, particularly in the first act,  that have all the intimacy of chamber music.  Mr Buesst was specially successful in treating such passages which were well phrased and finely balanced.  This intimacy of expression in the orchestra was echoed on the stage (where, as regards opera in general, it is too rarely heard), and it came almost as a new experience in Glasgow,  to sit in a theatre hushed,  in that special way which comes when a true atmosphere has been created, by the delicacies of Wagnerian opera.  Anti-Wagnerians who cannot believe this possible should examine the full score.

'Mr Horace Stevens, the Wotan of the cast was making last night his operatic debut in Glasgow.  He offered a properly dignified conception of the part, and sang with great effect, contributing his full share of that intimacy of delivery that has been emphasised above.  The Valkyrie is, vocally considered,  the most grateful, perhaps, of all the Ring operas in its melodic lines, and it was good,  let it be said again, to have those ever-present lyrical beauties so well cared for.  Miss Gladys Ancrum as Brünnhilde was also fine, in spite of a disturbing brilliance on some of her top notes.  Her mezza voce is very beautiful in quality,  and was most happily employed in those opening phrases of her defence in the last act.  Miss Constance Willis sang splendidly as Fricka.  Miss Rachel Morton as Sieglinde and Mr Walter Hyde as Siegmund showed fine vocal resource and particular insight in their impersonations, and the excellent cast was completed by Mr Radford as Hunding.

'One or two small points in stage production might be altered with advantage.  To see the assembled Valkyries in the last act thrusting out their spears on the first beat of each bar suggested a class in physical culture,  and in any case the timing was not very good.  Wotan also had a way of threatening with his upraised spear which was not always dignified;  and did Fricka not show a rather ungoddess-like sense of satisfaction after her victory in the argument with Wotan?  Wagner has made the impressive presentation of his gods and goddesses a difficult matter,  but they should endeavour to maintain their godhead in spite of him.'


A View from Dundee

The Dundee Courier & Advertiser: gave its opinion of this Dundee premiere on Saturday, November 5 1927  (p6)

British National Opera Company - “The Valkyrie”

'The British National Opera Company began their Dundee season by showing us Wagner at his most lyrical and genial.  Last night, in The Valkyrie, we heard him scaling the topmost heights of human emotion and sounding the very depths of elemental passion.  The musical narrative of the illicit love of Siegmund and Sieglinde, the vengeance of Hunding, the nobility of Brünnhilde, and the rough justice of Wotan reaches at times a level of magnificence which even Wagner never at any time surpassed.  The stage action is almost non-existent compared to the tremendous life and drama in the music itself.  The voices sing songs that would be beautiful enough in all conscience were the orchestration of a merely pedestrian kind, but in the Ring cycle it is the orchestration itself that lays bare the emotional conflicts, and delineates the subtlest moods and mental processes of the characters.

'The vocal parts are just so many threads in the gorgeous fabric - the marvellous inter-weaving of contrasting and related leitmotifs that is the complete score.  It is by the floods of glorious music welling up from the orchestral pit, in conjunction with the magnificent solos, that the full significance of the action is made clear.  You have the singing Love motif for solo 'cello; the plaintive subject that expresses so perfectly the weariness of Siegmund on his first entrance; the simplicity of the sympathy motif; the elastic and swaying Sword motif; the sinister Hunding motif; and many others, all in the first act alone.

'And so on throughout the opera, new motifs appearing or old ones reappearing, until the final bars are reached, when we hear a combination of themes - the shimmering last notes of the Fire Music shot through with the soothing Slumber motif and the muttering Fate subject that seems to sum up the whole philosophy of the work.  It is indeed a superb opera. And to think that the man who could write the Spring Song or the Abschied was regarded by thousands in his lifetime as a sort of super-Stravinsky of his day - an outsize in Schönbergs!

'Last night's production was one about which it would be easy to grow dithyrambic.  To begin with, it was perfectly cast.  The singers gave us the impression that each would have been a misfit in another part, which, no doubt, was wrong, but goes to prove how splendidly they sank themselves into their respective roles.  The general standard of both acting and singing was a remarkable one, but the Wotan of Mr Horace Stevens stood out even from last night's fine cast.  His oratorio work has always been very impressive, but it had not prepared us for the magnificent study he gave us in The Valkyrie.  In the smaller confines of a theatre his voice sounded rounder and more beautiful than ever, and his dignity and nobility of bearing were beyond praise.  His singing in Act II could hardly have been better, but he surpassed himself in the third act, seizing his great opportunity with both hands and making of the Sentence and Farewell two moving beautiful experiences that will with difficulty be erased from the memory of those who heard them.  Mr Horace Stevens is a very fine artist indeed.

'Miss Gladys Ancrum's Brünnhilde was another performance that gave undiluted pleasure.  Her clear flexible soprano took the five-barred gates of the Battle-cry's atrocious intervals in its stride, and was able to soar easily above the heaviest orchestral climaxes.  She put real tenderness into her singing of the duet with Wotan in Act II, and was also a worthy partner to Mr Stevens in the third act, where she made a beautiful thing of “Was it so shameful?”  Miss Rachel Morton as Sieglinde never at any time gave us a note that was not of fine quality, singing with tenderness, sympathy, and ample power when it was required of her.  Her Sieglinde was a very appealing figure, and she wisely nursed her forces in order to make the dramatic outburst to Siegmund in the second act the tense piece of singing that it was.

'Mr Walter Hyde as Siegmund also sang with restraint at the start.  His Spring Song was charmingly lyrical and his Narration vivid.  The Slumber Song was beautifully done, and his acting was what we expect from such an eminent artist.  Miss Constance Willis at last had a chance to show us her real quality as Fricka.  It is difficult to imagine how she could have made a better job of the part. Not for her the furtive glances at the conductor that we get every minute or two from some Wagnerian singers.  She sang with superb poise and perfect control of her fine mezzo-soprano.  There was subtlety in her work and her diction was exemplary.

'Mr Norman Allin had not much to do as Hunding, but he did it as perfectly as we will ever wish.  He was as sinister and gruff as you like, and his big, reverberating bass was just the thing for the part.  The Valkyries sang with great spirit in Act III, where the scudding clouds and Magic Fire were depicted with a realisation that would have gladdened the heart of Wagner himself, who was the most fussy of all stage directionists.

'Mr Leslie Heward conducted in a thoroughly competent manner.  He achieved a cohesive and proportionate design, never allowing his interest in detail to throw the whole drawing out.  The Vorspiel with its ominous rhythmic tread and stormy climax, the upward surge of the prelude to Act II, and the wild excitement of the famous Ride, were all finely done.  A slight roughness of tone here and there was easily excusable.  The large house was very appreciative.


A Second Opinion

Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post: Saturday, November 5 1927 (p3)      

British National Opera Company - Fine Performance of “The Valkyrie"

'For the first time a part of Wagner's Nibelungen Ring was performed in Dundee last night.  The Valkyrie is the second part of the tetralogy, but it is a complete opera and makes an entirely satisfactory fragment from the Ring. Some day we may see the whole Ring performed, but in the meantime we must be content to witness it in parts, and no-one can ever complain if the standard sustained last night marks the future presentation of the Ring music-drama.  Staged with a fine idea for massive effects, and with dim but suggestive lighting, sung by a fine cast of principals, and associated with an admirable orchestra, the performance by the BNOC, which moved with wonderful drive, should be long remembered by those who know a little of their Wagner and his aims.

'Those aims brought up every problem of opera, and especially the relation and balance of verse to music drama.  Wagner wished them to be of equal importance, but denied his thesis by his own example.  The text of Valkyrie, as was the case with other operas, is full of meaning, but it is swallowed up by the music when that music becomes highly expressive.  It is impossible to gather from the text what is going on as a rule, for most singers speak indistinctly, most bands are loud, and the beauty of music is all absorbing.  It may well be doubted if any man could make much of last night's story unless he had made some acquaintance with the plot beforehand.  The deepest thoughts of the drama lie in the music, and what a gorgeous music it is! Wagner thought in the orchestra.

'Based upon about forty leitmotives, the music of Valkyrie is a marvellous sound pattern wherein every phrase is significant of some one, or something connected with the story, and these themes are so handled that they make a marvellous orchestral web of the closest and loveliest texture.  It is not merely sound, but meaningful sound, with a definite association for each group of notes or phrase.  It is a music that intoxicates the sense, and its erotically inspired beauty is irresistible.  The vocal part flows on with the voice as one extra instrument in the scheme; there are few highlights and no set solos and the "spoken song" is no medium for the star vocalist, but really drama sung with music employed to heighten the emotional effect.

'The opera opens with a storm depicted in the orchestra.  Last night the storm seemed little more than one in a large teacup, and had little of the tempestuous in its rendering, but once the voice parts entered it was plain that no cavil could be made.  Miss Rachel Morton sang the part of Sieglinde with moving sympathy.  She kept prominent the sweetness of Sieglinde and made no attempt to be over-dramatic.  Her love scenes with Siegmund (Mr Walter Hyde) were exquisitely given, and the finale to the first act soared with ecstasy and exaltation.  Mr Hyde, the Siegmund, has a beautiful tenor voice, robust and ringing, and he knows how to use it expressively. In "Winter Storms" - rather a cheap tune in the context - he sang with a lyric charm, and his share in the great duet was full of passion and fine vocal abandon.

'As Hunding Mr Norman Allin had not a lot to do, but his splendid bass voice, perhaps the finest of our time, made the violent scene with Siegmund a most impressive one.  His singing and his acting were instinct with strong, ruthless character.  As Wotan, Mr Horace Stevens was actually bigger than his part, for Wotan in mediocre hands can be a tiresome bore with his endless prolixities.  By sheer weight of personality, by rich fervour of voice and artistic method, Mr Stevens gripped and gripped so that he dominated the play at many moments.  His "Farewell" was a noble number, and at every point his lofty reading of Wotan lifted the part into a higher plane.

'For purposeful acting, charm of voice, and clear diction Miss Constance Willis as Fricka was simply magnificent.  Her one scene with Wotan was tense with feeling, and thrilled as a striking piece of work.  Miss Gladys Ancrum played the part of Brünnhilde, and threw herself into the work with passionate fire and earnestness.  Time and again her voice towered over the full band in strenuous passages, and at no point did she fail to impress the hearer.  Her Brünnhilde was a fine study of brilliant singing, especially in the hard "Battle Cry".  The eight Valkyries sang sweetly and satisfactorily.

'Mr Leslie Heward directed the opera.  He got a wealth of fine playing from the orchestra - playing that was full of rich expression and elastic freedom.  The woodwinds got a bit out of tune late in the evening, for it was a warm night.  Some raggedness occurred but the orchestral part was replete with significant playing and beautiful phrasing.  The full tide of human feeling flows on and on in the orchestra, which throbs and pulsates with passion, and concludes with the "Fire" music, one of Wagner's greatest inspirations.'


BNOC in Scotland - 1927

The 1927 Scottish tour included six weeks, two each in Glasgow (Theatre Royal) and Edinburgh (King's), and a further week each in Aberdeen (His Majesty's) and Dundee (King's) - the first time that BNOC went north of the central belt.

Fifteen operas were performed:

Mozart (Marriage of Figaro,  Magic Flute);  Rossini (Barber of Seville);  Wagner (Tannhäuser,  Mastersingers,  Valkyrie,  Twilight of the Gods);   Verdi  (Aïda);   Bizet (Carmen);  Saint-Saëns (Samson and Delilah);  Massenet (Manon);   Leoncavallo  (Pagliacci);   Puccini  (Bohème,  Madam Butterfly,  Gianni Schicchi).

The schedule was as follows:

Glasgow, w/c 26 September:  Mon 26  Barber of Seville;  Tue 27  Magic Flute;  Wed 28 mat  Bohème;  Wed 28 eve  Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci:  Thu 29  Valkyrie;  Fri 30  Marriage of Figaro  Sat 01 mat  Madam Butterfly;  Sat 01 eve  Aïda.

Glasgow, w/c 03 October:  Mon 03  Carmen;  Tue 04  Manon;  Wed 05 mat  Marriage of Figaro;  Wed 05 eve  Barber of Seville;  Thu 06  Mastersingers;  Fri 07  Samson and Delilah;  Sat 08 mat  Magic Flute;  Sat 08 eve  Tannhäuser.

Edinburgh, w/c 10 October: Mon 10  Barber of Seville; Tue 11  Mastersingers;  Wed 12 mat  Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci;  Wed 12 eve  Magic Flute;  Thu 13  Manon;  Fri 14  Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 15 mat  Bohème;  Sat 15 eve  Samson and Delilah.

Edinburgh, w/c  17 October:  Mon 17  Barber of Seville;  Tue 18  Twilight of the Gods;  Wed 19 mat Madam Butterfly;  Wed 19 eve  Tannhäuser;  Thu 20  Carmen;  Fri 21  Manon;  Sat 22 mat  Magic Flute;  Sat 22 eve  Aïda.

Aberdeen, w/c 24 October:  Mon 24  Barber of Seville;  Tue 25  Twilight of the Gods;  Wed 26 mat  Magic Flute;  Wed 26 eve Manon;  Thu 27 Mastersingers;  Fri 28  Marriage of Figaro;  Sat 29 mat  Madam Butterfly;  Sat 29 eve Aïda.

Dundee, w/c 31 October: Mon 31  Mastersingers;  Tue 01 Nov  Barber of Seville;  Wed 02 mat  Marriage of Figaro;  Wed 02 eve  Madam Butterfly;  Thu 03  Manon;  Fri 04  Valkyrie;  Sat 05 mat  Bohème;  Sat 05 eve  Aïda.

Performance Cast

Siegmund a Volsung

Walter Hyde (Sep 29; Nov 4)

Sieglinde a Volsung, sister of Siegmund

Rachel Morton (Sep 29; Nov 4)

Hunding husband of Sieglinde

Robert Radford (Sep 29)

Norman Allin (Nov 4)

Wotan father of the Valkyries and Volsungs

Horace Stevens (Sep 29; Nov 4)

Brünnhilde a Valkyrie

Gladys Ancrum (Sep 29; Nov 4)

Fricka Wotan's estranged wife

Constance Willis (Sep 29; Nov 4)

Gerhilde a Valkyrie

Marjorie Parry (Sep 29)

Ortlinde a Valkyrie

Marguerite Anderson (Sep 29)

Waltraute a Valkyrie

Justine Griffiths (Sep 29)

Schwertleite a Valkyrie

Gertrude Hember (Sep 29)

Helmwige a Valkyrie

Eda Bennie (Sep 29)

Siegrune a Valkyrie

Frances Frost (Sep 29)

Grimgerde a Valkyrie

Beatrice Stanley (Sep 29)

Rossweisse a Valkyrie

Ethel Freegarde (Sep 29)

Performance DatesValkyrie 1927

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

29 Sep, 18.30

King's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

4 Nov, 18.30

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