Opera Scotland

Madam Butterfly 1927British National Opera Company

Read more about the opera Madama Butterfly

Each of the four cities on this Scottish tour saw a single performance of Butterfly.  Sir John Barbirolli seems to have had an instinctive empathy with Puccini's music throughout his career.  His recording of Butterfly, made in 1966 in Rome,  with Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi,  is still one of the best.  Here he had a cast of the cream of contemporary British singers, including Heddle Nash, Dennis Noble and Gladys Parr.  The title role,  some of the time,  was taken by Australian soprano Eda Bennie,  a regular with Carl Rosa and BNOC,  who had first worked in Britain with Moody-Manners before the war.

The casts shown are taken from reviews in the Scotsman of Thursday, 20 October, and Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post and Dundee Courier & Advertiser  of 3 November.


The Edinburgh opinion

The Scotsman reviewed the Saturday matinee of 22 October, but space was necessarily restricted in order to leave room for the evening's performance of Tannhäuser.

'Yesterday the British National Opera artists gave Madame Butterfly in the afternoon and Tannhäuser at night.  A mid-week matinee is an occasion when it is useless to expect a good audience,  and while that of yesterday was unsatisfactory,  it may perhaps be set to the credit of Puccini's very popular opera that it was no worse.  It was a performance which deserved much better fortune,  for it was full ofinterest.  The cast was an unfamiliar one,  Miss Isabel Rhys Parker being Butterfly;  Miss Gladys Parr the Suzuki;  Mr Heddle Nash,  PInkerton;  Mr Dennis Noble,  the Consul;  and Miss Marjorie Parry,  Kate Pinkerton.

'Miss Rhys Parker's Butterfly was a very convincing performance - she sang with an admirable quality of tone and the pathetic dignity of the forsaken girl was suggested with a fine reserve.  Miss Parr's Suzuki had won recognition as a singularly artistic piece of work, before she joined the British National Opera Company, and yesterday there was the customary beauty of tone, and the excellent suggestion of the warm-hearted maid of the ill-fated girl-wife.

'Mr Heddle Nash sang with the purity of tone which he has displayed in his various appearances during the present visit of the Company, and with the romantic fervour of the operatic tenor there was blended the right sugestion of the airy inconsequence of the man who is not taking his own infatuation very seriously.  Mr Dennis Noble gave an excellent, and rather individual, study of the Consul, and the other parts were capably filled.  The little there is for the chorus to do in the opera was well done, and as a whole, under Mr John Barbirolli's direction, it was an excellent performance.'


A Dundee Verdict

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Thursday, November 3 1927  (p5)

BNOC in “Madame Butterfly” - a Splendid Performance

'Last night, in contrast to the operas already played at the King's, Dundee, the British National Opera Company presented Puccini's Madame Butterfly, more modern and therefore perhaps more popular than some of the other works on their week's programme.  A crowded house responded to their performance.  To pour almost undiluted praise upon the whole company would be easy, but to pen a cool and candid criticism after such a performance as last night's is a more difficult task.  One feels handicapped almost from the start, as the audience last night showed its appreciation so heartily that any further criticism seems quite superfluous.

'The principals had to take several curtain calls, and among them appeared, as was most certainly his due, Mr John Barbirolli, the conductor, whose interpretation of the whole opera was one of the greatest merit.  His work was irresistibly inspiring.

'One can scarcely imagine a better selection for the part of the luckless Cho-Cho-San than Miss Eda Bennie.  Her clear, true voice was a pleasure to listen to, while her acting was beyond reproach.  This was especially marked in the second and third acts.  How pathetically lonely, how staunch, how hopeful, and ultimately how anguished!  Miss Bennie got the essentials right; she did not create emotion with a false intensity; and in the last tragic scene of all she was magnificent.  Like her acting, Miss Bennie's singing left nothing to be desired.  Her duet (the love duet) in the first act was a delight; her singing of “One Fine Day” was a gladsome thing; and her Flower Duet with Suzuki was entrancing.

'As Suzuki, the faithful servant, Miss Gladys Parr was ideal.  She seems to have the ability to charm in almost every part she undertakes, and last night's role was no exception to the rule.  Her singing was marked by that charm and her acting by that sincerity which seems inseparable from the name of Gladys Parr.

'In the somewhat despicable character of Lieutenant Pinkerton, US Navy, Mr Heddle Nash gave a splendid interpretation of an invidious part.  He was never too earnest, and never too careless, but gave us a blend of both that carried the part through with almost effortless distinction.  His singing in the last trio with Suzuki and Sharpless was his best.  Altogether it was a wonderful trio.

'As the American Consul, Sharpless, Mr Dennis Noble was notably efficient; first as the undecided friend, and later as the emissary of the news that was to break the heart of Cho-Cho-San.  His is a fine voice that was heard to advantage.  Mr Frederick Davies acquitted himself well in the serio-comic role of Goro and Messrs Martin Quinn, Philip Bertram and Hugh Hill all did well as Yamadori, the Bonze, and the Commissioner respectively.

'Taken as a whole, the poignancy of the story was well brought out, and the music was a joy to listen to.  Among the rest of the British National's Dundee programme Madame Butterfly will rank high and remain in the memory of a crowded audience that was enraptured from first to last.'


And Again

Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post: Thursday, November 3 1927 (p3)  

British National Opera Company - Performances at the King's Theatre

'The BNOC gave two performances in the King's Theatre yesterday - Mozart's ever delightful opera The Marriage of Figaro (with a brilliant cast) in the afternoon and Puccini's Madame Butterfly at night.  The evening opera drew the largest audience of the week - practically all the seats were filled.  It may be hoped that this is the turning point, for the only chance of getting the BNOC to come back to the city is to make their present visit a successful one.

'There were no changes in the cast of Madame Butterfly - Mr Heddle Nash as Pinkerton and Miss Eda Bennie replacing the artistes first billed.  Neither of these artistes had the full volume and singing clarity in top notes that Puccini in more places than one demands.  The consequence was that the finale of the great duet at the end of the first act lost its thrill when the voices were lost instead of towering over the band. In quieter passages, Miss Bennie and Mr Nash were far more satisfactory and, in each case, their mezza voice quality was rich and warm, and the honey of Puccini's melody gained in sweetness by the mellow tones of the two principals.

'Miss Bennie has thought out her Butterfly wing carefully.  She keeps the girlish simplicity throughout and the pathos was the pathos of disillusioned youth.  Her singing in "One Fine Day" and the Cherry song was full of ecstatic eagerness and gaiety, but, when she learned of Pinkerton's defection, a deeper and more tragic note came into her tone and the finale phrases were instinct with deep feeling.  Mr Heddle Nash got away with some fine operatic sweeps and in the last act, when retribution follows on his callow selfishness, a sensitive earnestness marked his singing.  Mr Dennis Noble made Sharpless the usual faithful Achates, a man of heart and sympathy.  His tenderness with Butterfly was sweet and his sterner notes gave point to his reproaches when Pinkerton is repentant.  Miss Gladys Parr made a fine study vocally and dramatically of the devoted Suzuki, and the other parts were all in safe hands.

'As in The Barber, Mr John Barbirolli was the guiding spirit.  Puccini wrote a complex orchestral score which teems with significant matter appropriate to the stage action at each moment.  It has all the best qualities of the old Italian opera - luscious melody and smooth phrases - with a strong modern bias.  Whole tone scale, unusual key relationships, sharp discords, and a piquant instrumentation give the orchestral part a very varied interest, and Mr Barbirolli, by his vivid rhythm and ability to obtain an elastic and free unity from his players, secured a brilliant orchestral rendering of a score that has not a dull bar.'


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

Lieutenant F B Pinkerton U S Navy

Heddle Nash (Oct 19 m; Nov 2)

Goro marriage broker

Frederick Davies (Nov 2)

Suzuki Cio-Cio-San's servant

Gladys Parr (Oct 19 m; Nov 2)

Sharpless U S Consul in Nagasaki

Dennis Noble (Oct 19 m; Nov 2)

Cio-Cio-San known as Madam Butterfly

Isabel Rhys Parker (Oct 19 m)

Eda Bennie (Nov 2)

Imperial Commissioner

Hugh Hill (Nov 2)

Bonze a priest, Cio-Cio-San's uncle

Philip Bertram (Nov 2)

Prince Yamadori

Martin Quinn (Nov 2)

Kate Pinkerton

Marjorie Parry (Nov 2)

Performance DatesMadam Butterfly 1927

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

1 Oct, 14.00

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

19 Oct, 14.00

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

29 Oct, 14.00

King's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

2 Nov, 19.30

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