Archive: Wagner and the RSNO

Our Head of Orchestra Management Ewen McKay has been exploring the RSNO's archive in advance of this weekend's performance of Götterdämmerung at the Edinburgh International Festival. Here's what he found...

Opera Performances

The RSNO, or the Scottish Orchestra as it was known then, performed in the first complete staged Ring Cycle in Scotland in March 1910. It was produced by the Edinburgh-based Denhof Opera Company, an extremely ambitious and forward-thinking professional organisation, who toured the UK with their Wagner production in 1911 (notably sung in English) and made enough surplus to tour productions of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tristan und Isolde, Pelléas and Elektra.

The 1910 Ring was based on a 1908 production given at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and musicians from that production were invited to augment the Scottish Orchestra. The company was taken over by Thomas Beecham in 1913, who used it as the core of the Beecham Opera Company. This picture of the Denhof production’s Die Walküre was taken in Glasgow in 1911.

In 1971, Scottish Opera and the Scottish National Orchestra completed a Ring Cycle under the direction of Music Director Alexander Gibson. Below is a poster from that production. The photo of the tuba section is from an earlier Wagner production, around 1967 or 68.

From left to right: Erik Knussen, Bob Molcher, John Brownlee, Charlie Floyd, Maurice Temple

The information sheet below shows that Wagner’s great-granddaughter Friedelind Wagner came to Glasgow around this time, to give a public talk organised by the Scottish Opera Club.

Wagner in Concert

Wagner’s music has always been extremely popular with Scottish audiences, both in the theatre and the concert hall. Below is one of our earliest records of a concert performance of some of Wagner’s music given in Glasgow in 1875, conducted by the famous Hans von Bülow. Von Bülow married Liszt’s daughter Cosima in 1857, however they divorced in 1870 after she fell in love with Richard Wagner – this makes von Bülow’s programming choice for the Glasgow concert all the more intriguing.

Subsequent Principal Conductors of the Scottish Orchestra have championed Wagner’s music in concert. Below are some examples from programmes featuring Harrison, Młynarski, Barbirolli, Koussevitsky and Szell.

November 1922 Harrison

December 1925 Mlynarski

Jan 1937 Barbirolli

December 1923 Koussevitsky

Jan 1939 Szell

The 1937 Barbirolli concert performance of the closing scene from Götterdämmerung, also has the Scottish premiere of William Walton’s First Symphony. The player list for that concert shows a Miss Evelyn Rothwell on Principal Oboe. She married Barbirolli two years later when he took up the Principal Conductor position with the New York Philharmonic, and she left the Scottish Orchestra to pursue a career as a soloist and teacher.

Explore upcoming concerts with the RSNO here.