Opera Scotland

Barbiere di Siviglia 1927British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Barber of Seville

Rossini really wasn't anything like as popular in the early years of the twentieth century as he has since become. So it is perhaps surprising that Scottish audiences on this six-week tour saw the Barber five times, with two of them in Edinburgh. The first four performances took place on a Monday, including the opening night in Glasgow. In Dundee, for some reason, it was played on Tuesday - that week began with a bang, in the shape of The Mastersingers.

The Glasgow cast for 5 October comes from a programme in the A M Gardiner collection at the Mitchell Library. The assembly for Dundee is derived from reviews in the Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post and Dundee Courier & Advertiser, as well as advertisements. The Edinburgh cast for 17 October is from a programme in the Edinburgh Room of Edinburgh City Library.

All three Rosinas were lyric sopranos with an excellent coloratura technique, and expert performers of Mozart. However they are not the mezzo for whom Rossini composed the part - it was still some years before the great Spanish mezzo Conchita Supervia would demonstrate how the work should sound.

John Barbirolli, Heddle Nash, Dennis Noble and the rest of an expert cast would have helped show how the piece should go.


An Edinburgh Review

The Scotsman of Tuesday, 18 October (p6) was enthusiastic:

'It is an excellent thing that an opera of such irresistible gaiety and charm as The Barber of Seville,  after many years of neglect,  should have once more taken its place in the current repertory.   Last night, when the British National Opera artists gave the work for the second time during their present visit to Edinburgh,  there was evidence of its popularity in the large audience which it drew to the King's Theatre.

'Wiih one change in the cast,  Miss Marguerite Anderson replacing Miss Miriam Licette as Rosina,  the singers were the same as on last Monday night.  Miss Anderson,  making her second appearance during the present season, was a delightful Rosina.  She sang the florid music of the part with an enjoyable freshness, and gave a sparkling rendering of Auber's ''Laughing Song'' in the Lesson Scene.  Mr Heddle Nash,  as before,  was a highly effective Count,  and his flexible voice was displayed to great advantage in music which is frequently almost of the type associated with a coloratura singer,  so elaborate is its design.  He acted well,  and the scene where he figures as a drunken soldier was an excellent piece of fooling.

'The Figaro of Mr Dennis Noble,  the Dr Bartolo of Mr Percy Heming,  and the Don Basilio of Mr Robert Radford were again vocally and dramatically admirable,  and the duenna of Miss Gladys Parr,  as at the previous performance was one of the most entertaining features of the rendering of the opera as a whole.  Her singing of the air in the third act was full of quaint charm.  Mr Philip Bertram sang well as the officer,  and the serenaders in the opening scene entered into the humour of the scene with great gusto.

'The Barber is first and last a thing of ingenious and diverting ensembles,  and to this aspect of last night's performance it would be difficult to give too great praise.  Under Mr John Barbirolli's inspiring direction,  they were given with an exhilarating neatness and humour.'


A Dundee Opinion

(Bernard Ross is listed in the cast in newspaper advertisements, although his role is not specified).

The oplnion of the Dundee Courier & Advertiser appeared on Wednesday, November 2   1927 (p3)

'The British National Opera Company gave us last night in the King's Theatre, Dundee, the always delightful Barber of Seville and gave it in a fashion that must have fulfilled any expectations aroused by the flattering things we have been hearing about this particular production.  It was rapturously received by the large audience.

'The Barber of Seville can be a delicious little comedy when the performance in general is informed with the right spirit.  To ruin it by over-emphasis is fatally easy, and it speaks volumes for last night's production that, after the first quarter of an hour or so, there could have been no possible fears for its artistic success.

'The whole thing generally was artistic.  It was even exquisite.  The light touch, the delicacy and grace that The Barber of Seville cries out for were there.  The mounting, even though it cannot be said that it broke any fresh ground, was pretty and adequate.  But the important thing is that everything sparkled, and the music, parts of which have usually not much more than an antiquarian interest, was galvanised into something very much alive.  For that, the lion's share of the credit goes to Mr Barbirolli.

'Last night's Rosina was Miss Noel Eadie, who sang the music remarkably well.  Her voice is an uncommonly fine soprano, warm in timbre, of considerable power, and equipped with mechanism that enabled her to execute the roulades and trills in “Una Voce” with astonishing cleanness.  She is decidedly a coloratura soprano to be reckoned with, and the voice itself has more body than is usual among her type.  Her singing in the Lesson Scene of Auber's “Laughing Song” was a brilliant bit of staccato work.  She was arch and scheming and acted at all times with charm.

'As in The Mastersingers, Mr Herbert Langley again walked off with the chief comedy honours. His Basilio was grubby, unctuous, and plausible, but the audience loved him. He gave us as complete a character study as his Beckmesser and no greater compliment could be paid him than that.  His singing was also first-rate, the “Calumny” aria being delivered with all possible point and splendour of tone.

'Mr Dennis Noble made a jolly figure of the ubiquitous Figaro, and acted with any amount of ease and naturalness.  With such a magnificent baritone as he possesses, his “Largo al Factotum” might conceivably have been made just a little more of.  Even as it was it had rare swing and vigour. His diction both in his dialogue and songs was a joy.

'Mr Heddle Nash was an ardent and graceful Almaviva.  He wrestled manfully with the elaborations of his Serenade in Act I and used his light, pleasant tenor very effectively in all his work.  The poor perplexed Bartolo found a delightful exponent in Mr Percy Heming, who carried through a none too easy part with eminent success, besides singing very finely.

'Our old friend Miss Gladys Parr's Marcellina was notable for the splendid rendering of her single aria, and an amazing pair of eyebrows.  The concerted work was really beyond praise.  Precision and balance were quite perfect, the highest pitch of excellence being reached with the Sextette in Act II.

'Mr Barbirolli conducted with great vigour and energy.  He achieved some magnificent ensembles, and the orchestral playing under his baton was delightfully crisp and vivacious.  He well deserved the spontaneous applause that was accorded him.'


Another View

 The Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post of Wednesday, November 2 1927 (p4) expressed its view:                               

'The British National Opera Company gave a lively and very crisp performance of Rossini's famous opera at the King's Theatre last night.  That artificial spirit and atmosphere that envelop Beaumarchais' famous comedy The Barber of Seville has its parallel in Rossini's music, which, although a 19th century composition, is 18th century in essence.  It is a formal music, vigorous and direct, never given to half hints or marked by suggestion, but a music that is "all there" with point in it and formula and antithesis, and a polish that leaves little or nothing to the imagination.

'Some musicians would brush this music aside as faded stuff, and as artificial, frigid art, but others, like the motorist who loves the Great North Road and finds beauty in the flattest regions, discover beauties in every sort of music, from the plain chant to a waltz, and they are attracted strongly by the 18th century purity and serene formal beauty of the music. So those with a catholic taste will revel in the set forms of The Barber, and for once will agree that the musician may be as important as the music.  It is a music for the highly trained vocalist, and makes far greater demands upon vocal skill than upon the artistic perception; it is a music of floridity and rapid movement rather than one with deep feeling in its fibre.  Yet it has its own beauty, and it is this beauty that the BNOC have plumbed.

'It was a happy idea of Mr John Barbirolli and his associates to revive the opera last summer and of the BNOC to take over the production.  Mr Barbirolli is one of our young conductors and a musician of high promise.  It was evident from the moment that the overture began that things were in the hands of a very alert and vital personage, and the impression was confirmed as the night went on.  The merit of the performance lay in the vitality and vigour, in the easy flow of the dialogue and the pure beauty of the singing.  It was a performance instinct with life and treated with that delicate touch that can give 18th century music and drama a distinct manner and atmosphere.

'Mr Dennis Noble played the Barber.  He established himself at once by his neat sinewy reading of the Largo al Factotum, with its patter as clean as a leek.  All through he exhibited a nice sense of fun in his acting and fine spirit in his singing.  Mr Heddle Nash sang the music of Almaviva with sweetness of voice and a nice sense of expression.  He had much to do and showed himself a versatile artiste.

'Mr Percy Heming as Dr Bartolo revealed rich qualities of acting and his personality loomed large whenever he was on the stage.  He has a splendid baritone voice, and his singing was a pure delight. Mr Herbert Langley, one of the finest artists in the company, made the lugubrious Basilio an interesting study.  This gentleman is a fine actor, but his singing is no less attractive, especially for the merit of clear diction.  He never missed a point in the Calumny number.

'Miss Noël Eadie was Rosina.  Her voice is a splendid soprano and she sang florid music with neatness and ease.  The familiar "Una Voce" and the interpolated Auber number were delightfully rendered.  As a coloratura singer she has a firm warm quality of voice for songs of an intricate kind and the various runs and trills rippled along as smoothly and sweetly as a running brook.  Miss Gladys Parr, ever a fine artiste, sang her one aria with her usual artistry.

'The audience, which might well have been larger but for a depressingly wet night, gave the company a great reception, and "fell for" the sparkle and gaiety that the company infused into the piece with great gusto.'


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

Fiorello servant of the Count

Bernard Ross (Oct 5, 17; Nov 1)

Count Almaviva a young nobleman

Heddle Nash (Oct 5, 10, 17; Nov 1)

Figaro a barber

Dennis Noble (Oct 5, 10, 17; Nov 1)

Rosina Bartolo's ward

Miriam Licette (Oct 5, 10)

Marguerite Anderson (Oct 17)

Noël Eadie (Nov 1)

Bartolo a doctor, Rosina's guardian

Percy Heming (Oct 5, 10, 17; Nov 1)

Don Basilio a singing teacher

Robert Radford (Oct 5, 10, 17)

Herbert Langley (Nov 1)

Berta Bartolo's housekeeper

Gladys Parr (Oct 5, 10, 17; Nov 1)


Philip Bertram (Oct 5, 10, 17)

Bernard Ross (Nov 1)


Eric Graie (Oct 5, 10, 17; Nov 1)

Production Cast


John Barbirolli (Oct 5, 10, 17; Nov 1)


George King


Frederic Austin (Dialogue)

Performance DatesBarbiere di Siviglia 1927

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

26 Sep, 19.30 5 Oct, 19.30

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

10 Oct, 19.15 17 Oct, 19.15

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

24 Oct, 19.30

King's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

1 Nov, 19.30

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