Opera Scotland

Bohème 1955Carl Rosa Opera Company

Read more about the opera Bohème


The highlight of the Carl Rosa tour of 1955 was the inclusion of several communities which had slipped off the circuit.  Gaumont Cinemas had become aware that they owned several buildings that were still fully equipped with stages, and a decision was taken to allow a varied diet of live performance for six weeks every year.  These included the Southend Odeon and Brighton Essoldo, as well as Gaumonts in Southampton, Chester, Doncaster and Preston.

The Tour

The only place in Scotland to be affected was Dundee - its Gaumont, the onetime King's Theatre, had been a very successful variety house, opening in 1909 and also staging touring shows, including opera, from 1921.  It had been acquired by a cinema company in 1928 to satisfy the apparently insatiable demand in the city for moving pictures, especially when "talkies" were beginning to appear.  It was therefore nearly thirty years since Carl Rosa had visited Dundee, even if smaller companies had appeared sporadically in other less ideal buildings.

To the surprise of many, all seven performances sold out immediately.  The company's reaction was to add an extra midweek matinee (of Barber of Seville) and to make plans for an early return visit.  This established a pattern which survived the takeover by Sadler's Wells, and continued until 1961, when the theatre was converted to a (distinctly unsatisfactory) wide-screen cinema and lost its stage altogether (along with many other vital features - boxes, upper circle and front-of-house space).  The irony, for opera audiences in the city, was that Scottish Opera was established in 1962, and first toured outside the central belt (to Aberdeen) as early as 1965.  Without regular feeding, the habit of opera-going in the city has gradually died.

The two-week visit to the Glasgow Theatre Royal was, by contrast, a regular feature of Carl Rosa tours. Works shown only in Glasgow were Don Giovanni, Carmen, The Tales of Hoffmann and Tannhäuser. Both cities saw Bohème, Barber of Seville, Cav & Pag, Rigoletto, Trovatore and Faust.


Press Previews - Dundee

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Tuesday, February 8, 1955

Prospect of Grand Opera in Dundee

'The Carl Rosa Opera Company will appear on the stage of the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee for the week commencing May 16, according to arrangements which it is hoped will be successfully completed.  It was confirmed last night that the company has been booked for Dundee, and it remains only for certain other points to be cleared up.

'No professional opera has been presented in Dundee since long before the war, and the Carl Rosa has not been in Dundee since the twenties.  The company is at present in Brighton, and on tour is presenting a different opera each night, the repertoire including La Boheme, The Barber of Seville, Faust, and Il Trovatore.  The cast is over 100 strong and there is an orchestra of 40.

'The business manager stated last night that the Gaumont and Granada cinema circuits present stage shows of variety every month in some areas, and the Carl Rosa is striking out and presenting opera in the cinemas. Slightly lower prices than usual for opera are charged. So far, Southend, Cardiff, and Southampton have been visited, and the tour is proving very successful.

'The Carl Rosa normally pay an annual visit to Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh, but this year will not visit the latter two cities.  Before playing in Dundee they will be in Glasgow.  If the Carl Rosa's visit materialises as hoped and the experiment is a financial success, Dundee may get a top-line stage show at the Gaumont about every two months.'


Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Friday, April 29, 1955

It's “House Full” for Opera Week

'Most surprised man in Dundee is Mr George Chantrey, Gaumont Theatre manager.  Every seat for the week of opera, beginning May 23, when the Carl Rosa company visit the theatre has already been snapped up

            “Booking is unprecedented,” said Mr Chantrey yesterday. “To cope with the demand, we're putting on an extra matinee on the Wednesday of The Barber of Seville. There's no doubt at all now about the popularity of live shows. After the Sadler's Wells Ballet on November 14, I think Love from Judy will be on the boards, and, in all likelihood, a pantomime for Christmas if we're able to get a name star. We intend to bring as many live shows as we possibly can. At the moment we're only allowed six a year.”

'No professional opera has been in Dundee since long before the war, and the Carl Rosa Company has not been in Dundee since the twenties.'


Dundee Evening Telegraph: Saturday, May 21, 1955

The Carl Rosa Visit Dundee

'There is an international flavour about the Carl Rosa Opera Company, which takes over at the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee, next week. Grand old lady of the company, 73-year old Mrs Annette Phillips, hails from Ireland. She inherited the Company from her husband in 1950. She is artistic director and administrator. Soprano Estelle Valery is a champion swimmer. She comes from New Zealand, as does mezzo-soprano Mona Ross. Polish-born Stanislav Pieczora was a doctor until he decided to make operatic singing his career. Another Polish-born member of the company is soprano Krystyna Granowska.

'Other principals who will be heard in Dundee are John Heddle Nash, who is following in the family tradition of opera; Charles Craig, George Chitty, Redvers Llewellyn and guest artiste Gwen Catley. The repertoire is Monday La Boheme; Tuesday Rigoletto; Wednesday Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci; Thursday Faust; Friday The Barber of Seville; Saturday matinee La Boheme; Saturday evening Il Trovatore. Arthur Hammond and Maurits Sillem share the duties of conductor.'

            (Because all performances were sold out an additional performance of The Barber of Seville was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at 2.30).


Dundee Press Opinion

Dundee Courier & Advertiser: Tuesday, May 24, 1955

Carl Rosa Opera

 'The Carl Rosa Opera Company, which opened at the Gaumont Theatre last night, sold out all seats for its Dundee visit weeks ago.  After last night's performance of La Boheme it can also be said that the week is going to be an artistic success.  First-class professional opera is a novel comeback to the city after many years' deprivation.  And Carl Rosa today are definitely a first-class company - quite back to their palmy days, with a galaxy of fine voices, plus a satisfactory orchestral backing of forty players.

'Boheme, which box offices prove is today's most popular opera in the repertoire, must have something more than competent singing and orchestral playing in Puccini's surging, emotional melodies.  It needs qualities of tenderness and atmosphere, which were present last night to a moving degree.  Each act had its own special atmosphere under brisk, cleverly detailed production - the gaiety and bonhomie of the Bohemians; the tender love scene between Rudolph and Mimi; the clattering fun of the Cafe Momus party; the tragic death of the consumptive heroine.

'The company is international in its leading figures.  Conductor last night was young Maurits Sillem, a Dutchman.  I noticed that he conducted the whole opera without a note of music in front of him - quite a feat of memory, because Boheme has a notoriously tricky orchestral score.  His direction was highly sensitive - the playing responsive.  The only possible criticism - fortes a little too loud for the best balance at odd moments.

'Mimi was Estelle Valery, New Zealand soprano, and the Rudolph, Charles Craig, principal tenor, who was “discovered” by Sir Thomas Beecham while in the chorus at Covent Garden.  They established their quality right away in the first act with the famous arias “Your Tiny Hand is Frozen” and “They Call Me Mimi” and the culminating duet “Lovely Maid in the Moonlight”.  Miss Valery's Mimi was efficient vocally, with steady tone and volume without pressing high up.  Mr Craig had the art of keeping his tone bright, and his whole performance retained a lyrical tenderness I thought admirable.

'David Allen, a young Australian baritone, is an undoubted Carl Rosa star discovery.  I cannot recall a better Marcel - a lovely voice, musically used, and a more than competent actor. The other baritone parts, Schaunard and Colline, were well sung by John Heddle Nash (son of the famous British tenor) and Richard Golding.   The Musetta was Krystyna Granowska, Polish-born, whose fine voice is matched by a striking personality.'


Dundee Evening Telegraph: Tuesday, May 24, 1955    

Welcome Return of Grand Opera

 'The Carl Rosa Opera Company last night opened their week at the Gaumont Theatre, Dundee, with a magnificent presentation of Puccini's well-loved work La Boheme. For the many young people present, it probably meant their first experience of Grand Opera as presented by a first-class professional company. For others it must have brought back memories of the great days in Dundee's theatrical history. Judging from the size and enthusiasm of last night's audience, there is certainly a local demand for such entertainment.

'La Bohème, with its soaring melodies and the happy blend of humour and romance of its story, is itself an ideal introduction to the realms of Grand Opera. Its scenes are short and we are saved from the tremendous amount of musical “padding” too often found in the older operas. Perhaps the most striking feature of last night's production was the excellence of its teamwork. We had an all-over high standard of singing from a talented group of young people who also know how to act exceedingly well. Happily the day appears to be gone when an operatic performance must stand or fall on the singing of one prima donna. Too often, after the exciting music of the first act, the subsequent scenes of La Boheme seem to fall flat. This was not the case last night, for the humour of the cafe scene was completely enchanting. The finale, too, with Mimi's deathbed scene, was played in perfect taste and proved a most moving experience.

'Vocally the honours must go to the men, but of course they have some of the best material to sing. Charles Craig, who played Rudolph, the poet, had that full-blooded, romantic quality of voice so necessary to Puccini's music. Like his fellow artistes, he obviously had a very clear-cut conception of the needs of his part and his acting performance was one of great sincerity. Sharing vocal honours with him was David Allen, as Marcel, the painter. Here is a young singer whose great potentialities of voice are only matched by the intelligence of his acting. Two other fine singers completed the happy-go-lucky quartet of friends. These were John Heddle Nash (son of the famous tenor) as Schaunard (the musician), and Richard Golding as Colline (the philosopher). Their inspired fooling obviously was enjoyed as much by themselves as by their audience.

'Estelle Valery's Mimìi grew emotionally as the evening progressed. During the first act, she seemed just a trifle too business-like for the shy little seamstress. Her sensitive performance at the toll-gate, and in the finale, however, could scarcely have been bettered. Her singing voice, too, is powerful and controlled, and she interpreted the famous “They Call Me Mimi” aria with much charm. As Musetta, the delightful little coquette, Krystyna Granowska was excellently cast. Her reading of the role was one in which tantrums and tenderness were beautifully mingled. She also sings extremely well.

'Geoffrey de Latour, as an elderly admirer of Musetta's, almost stole the scene in the second act by the perfection of his comedy. He also doubled the part of Benoit (the landlord). Michael O'Farrell as Parpignol the toy merchant and Basil Hemming as the Customs House Sergeant completed the cast. Conducting without a score, Maurits Sillem handled the gigantic task of combining the singers and a large orchestra with complete success.'


The Carl Rosa Scottish Schedule - 1955

The eleven operas performed during the tour were:  Mozart (Don Giovanni);  Rossini (Barber of Seville);  Wagner (Tannhäuser);  Verdi (RigolettoTrovatore);  Gounod (Faust);  Offenbach (Tales of Hoffmann);  Bizet (Carmen);   Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);  Puccini (Bohème);  Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana).

The full Scottish tour schedule was:

Glasgow, w/c 2 May:  Mon 2 Bohème;  Tue 3 Barber of Seville;  Wed 4 Cav & Pag;  Thu 5 Faust; Fri 6 Tannhäuser;  Sat 7 mat Bohème;  Sat 7 eve Carmen.

Glasgow, w/c 9 May:  Mon 9 Tales of Hoffmann;  Tue 10 Rigoletto;  Wed 11 Bohème;  Thu 12 Cav & Pag;  Fri 13 Don Giovanni;  Sat 14 mat  Barber of Seville;  Sat 14 eve Trovatore.

The intervening week, commencing Monday, 16 May, was spent at the Globe Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees.

Dundee, w/c 23 May:  Mon 23 Bohème;  Tue 24 Rigoletto;  Wed 25 mat Barber of Seville;  Wed 25 eve Cav & Pag;  Thu 26 Faust;  Fri 27 Barber of Seville; Sat 28 mat Bohème;  Sat 28 eve Trovatore.


Cast details are taken from a copy of the Dundee programme held by OperaScotland.

Performance Cast

Rodolfo a poet

Charles Craig (May 23)

William Aitken (May 28 m)

Marcello a painter

David Allen (May 23)

Arthur Copley (May 28 m)

Colline a philosopher

Richard Golding (May 23)

Ernest Thomas (May 28 m)

Schaunard a musician

John Heddle Nash (May 23, 28 m)

Benoit the students' landlord

Geoffrey de Latour (May 23, 28 m)

Mimì a seamstress

Estelle Valery (May 23, 28 m)

Parpignol a toy vendor

Michael O'Farrell (May 23, 28 m)

Musetta a grisette

Krystyna Granowska (May 23, 28 m)

Alcindoro a wealthy follower of Musetta

Geoffrey de Latour (May 23, 28 m)

Custom-house Sergeant

Basil Hemming (May 23, 28 m)

Performance DatesBohème 1955

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

2 May, 19.30 7 May, 14.30 11 May, 19.30

Gaumont Theatre | Dundee

23 May, 19.00 28 May, 14.00

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