Newsletter Vol 18 No. 4 December 2014




We have had a cluster of significant anniversaries to contend with over the past few years:  Strauss and Gluck this year, following on Wagner himself with Verdi and Britten last year calculated in various ways. We now have one more to consider. With the AGM at the end of November your Society has reached its first anniversary under the management of the new Committee put in place one year ago. A summary of the meeting by our Hon. Secretary follows. Also included is a report by our current Bayreuth Scholar Paul Livingston of his time in Bayreuth earlier in the year. It makes interesting reading, especially for those who heard him speaking and playing after the AGM. We wish him the very best for the future.

Information and a booking form for our next residential course, to be held on 14th−17th September 2015 at Gartmore House, are enclosed with this Newsletter. The course will be entitled 'The Young Wagner' and will be taught by Derek Watson. Please apply early to ensure your place.  [RA]   


Summary of the 18th Annual General Meeting held on 30 November 2014


The meeting was attended by 31 members. The Chairman Dale Bilsland presented his annual report outlining the meetings and residential course. He reported that the new audiovisual equipment had been a great success. The new Committee elected on the retirement of Derek Watson and Will Scott had settled in. In response to a question, he reported that the membership as at 1 October 2014 was 216, including 51 joint members. Membership was slowly reducing and Dale asked that members encourage people to join and to attend meetings.

The Treasurer Scott Wilkinson reported that, although there had been a deficit of nearly £2,000, this was related to the expenditure on the new equipment, website training to enable us to manage our own site (reducing costs going forward), and production and postage of the Bulletin. There was still a healthy balance of around £8,000 on each of the general funds and the scholarship fund. However, he announced an increase from January 2015 in the suggested donation for drinks to £2 so that costs were covered (licensing law prohibits us from charging for drinks) and, to encourage people to join the Society, an increase in the entry fee to meetings for non-members to £15.

The proposed constitutional changes circulated to members in early November 2014 were approved apart from item 7 of the Constitution relating to terms of office for honorary officers. This was not supported by several members and was defeated on a vote. The approved changes will be taken forward with the Charities Commission.

The Committee for 2014−15 was elected as follows:  Dale Bilsland (Chair), Nadine Harrison (Secretary), Scott Wilkinson (Treasurer and Membership Secretary), Robert Allen (Newsletter Editor), Iain Millar (Bayreuth Officer); Gabriele Kuhn, Christine Proudfoot, Richard Proudfoot, Ina Stewart (Members).

Membership cards would no longer be issued routinely but could be issued on request. Membership numbers would be put on address labels for mailings.

Full draft minutes of the AGM are available on request from Nadine Harrison (Secretary) and will be ratified at the 19th AGM in 2015.    [NH]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Forthcoming Events

—All events take place at Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge). Admission £7 members, £15 non-members.


Sunday 18 January 2015 at 7.30pm

Hans Sachs and the Mastersingers: history and depiction — Gordon Shiach

Gordon Shiach writes: ‘I propose to talk first about the historic figure of Hans Sachs, and the development and activities of the Mastersingers in 16th century Nürnberg.  In the second part of the talk I will look at Wagner's characterisation of Sachs, and the portrayal of the Mastersingers in the opera, illustrated musically by excerpts from CDs of a classic performance of the opera.
 ‘When I retired after 25 years on the Sheriff Court bench, I decided to follow up my existing interest in opera by studying by distance learning at Rose Bruford College, Sidcup, Kent.  I graduated BA with Honours in Opera Studies in 2005.  My research project for the Honours year of the course was on 'Imagery in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg', supervised by Dr Jane Schopf (who is to address the Wagner Society of Scotland in February 2015) although my talk is not based on that project.’


Sunday 15 February 2015  at 7.30 pm

Cutting Edge or Cutting Teeth? Die Feen, Wagner’s first completed foray into opera — Dr Jane Schopf

Jane Schopf is Programme Director for Opera Studies at Rose Bruford College, Kent, where she initiated and runs the biennial international conference series "Music on Stage". She has spoken and published on Wagner and Krenek both in the UK and abroad. Her talk will explore Wagner's first completed opera Die Feen to see how prophetic it was of his later work and how indebted it was to operatic forerunners.


Sunday 15 March 2015 at 7.30 pm

Telling the Story: Costuming The Ring — John Liddell

John Liddell was Costume Supervisor for Scottish Opera’s Ring Cycle, produced between 2000 and 2003, and for the earlier productions of Das Rheingold (1989) and Die Walküre (1991). His job was to work with the directors and designers to bring their vision to reality, by creating over 200 different costumes for 180 performers, including rubber dresses, ravens’ heads, silicone wigs, spectacles that light up, a flayed bear-skin and Valkyries on stilts. He will discuss the artistic process and the practical difficulties involved in interpreting character through costume.

John graduated in Law from Glasgow University, but turned his back on the legal profession and joined the tailoring trade; finding his vocation, he has spent 45 years specialising in theatre costume. He worked for 15 years as a freelance theatrical costume maker before joining Scottish Opera in 1985: initially as Gentlemen’s Costume Cutter and since 2005 as Head of Costume. He has been involved in all of Scottish Opera’s productions for the last 29 years and has also worked on productions for Scottish Ballet, the Citizens’ Theatre, the Scottish Early Music Consort, Chichester Festival, Bregenz Festival (Austria), the Metropolitan Opera (New York), BBC, STV, and film productions.


Sunday 19 April 2015 at 7.30 pm

In Italian or English? The first performances of Wagner’s operas in Scotland — Iain Fraser

Iain Fraser, who with his brothers Peter and Stephen co-founded the website OperaScotland, will speak about its origin and development and some of the discoveries they have made in relation to the early performances of Wagner’s operas in Scotland, pushing the performing history back earlier than previously assumed. For example, Opera historian and enthusiast Harold Rosenthal, one of the founders of Opera magazine, had been unable to identify a Valkyrie in Scotland earlier than 1910. OperaScotland now lists it as 1896. The first two productions that came to Scotland were Lohengrin (1875, sung in Italian) and Flying Dutchman (1877, sung in English). The productions and performance styles provide a fascinating contrast not just with the present day but with each other. Iain also reveals some of the personalities involved, offering a glimpse of Scotland’s neglected operatic history.

Iain's first career was in construction, subsequent to taking a University degree in Manchester (UMIST). He worked in London on building sites as a quantity surveyor during the day and often went to the ROH or ENO at night (‘I did not realise you could combine work with pleasure until then’). He has since then researched and lectured in entrepreneurship, small business management, and marketing and has developed the OperaScotland website with his brothers and others. He lives in Fife.


RWVI (International Association of Wagner Societies)

The Executive Summary of the RWVI Committee Meeting held in Frankfurt on 18 October is available here.


‘In fernem Land’  —  Our Bayreuth Scholar, violinist Paul Livingston, writes about his visit to the Festival in the summer

[Paul’s complete report, of which these are extracts, can be found here.]


In August 2014 I was greatly privileged to attend the Bayreuth Festival as this year's Stipendiat of the Wagner Society of Scotland. In the course of the visit, I attended performances of  Der Fliegende Holländer, Die Walküre, and Lohengrin, and met fellow scholars from all over the world. Roughly a third of those working at the Festival had once been scholars, and this year's Stipendien had travelled from far and wide to represent most of the world's 137 Wagner Societies — among them young singers, instrumentalists, conductors, theatre directors and set designers. As part of the scholarship programme we enjoyed guided tours of the Festspielhaus and town, pre-performances talks, receptions with conductors and other artists, a scholars' concert and more. The experience was immensely satisfying and inspiring, and greatly beneficial to my musical development.


Having spent some considerable time in Germany over the past ten years, I was well aware of Bayreuth's unique place both in the national consciousness and in the musical/orchestral hierarchy. In its commanding position aloft the Grüne Hügel, the Festspielhaus itself threw up a number of surprises during my time there. Every detail of the Festspielhaus is geared towards an attentive and rather intense experience of the music dramas: its entirely wooden construction and spartan, pew-like seating which amplifies every nuance of the score; the orchestra pit and conductor completely concealed under the enormously deep stage, with the sound emerging ethereally as if from another world; the egalitarian seating plan with practically the whole audience (including the German Chancellor when she attends) placed in a single series of long rows without a central aisle or in fact a toilet in the building. These various elements converge in a feeling that the audience is somehow participating — a sort of mute but acutely involved Greek chorus, completing the drama through its reception and engagement, perhaps as Wagner conceived: 'History gave me a model also for that ideal relation of the theatre to the public which I had in mind. I found it in the drama of Ancient Athens.'


I found the three performances uniformly excellent and profoundly engaging. Thielemann's taut and lithe Holländer was especially gripping, perhaps partly because I was most familiar with this score beforehand. Johan Botha's appearance as Siegmund in Die Walküre was another highlight, and the final act of Andris Nelson's Lohengrin had the audience completely under its spell during 'In fernem Land' and 'Mein lieber Schwan', reduced to parody only at its very apotheosis by the appearance of a floating foetus, replete with bulging veins and umbilical cord.


As regards the staging at Bayreuth, it is worth observing that where Wagner sought to reconfigure art's relationship to its audience, later generations haughtily disregarded it altogether. And it is this gaping disparity between Wagner's painstaking stage directions and the gnawing sense of arbitrariness at the on-stage shenanigans, which many find hard to reconcile. Though as a violinist, I must admit that any bewilderment was tempered somewhat by sheer elation at being able to see the set and stage at all — Soviet kitsch, rats and placentas notwithstanding! Much is written about Neuenfels' Lohengrin rats, the Holländer electric fans and of course, the revered and reviled bête noire of German Regietheater, Frank Castorf — likened by one critic to the villainous Alberich, who 'steals the gold, renounces love and wants to rule the world'.


My visit to the Festival left me filled with enthusiasm and delighted to have met so many immensely talented young musicians and artists. From the performances themselves to the twilight vision of a couple of staggering Teutonic basses, drunk or otherwise intoxicated, belting out 'Die Frist is um' over Richard and Cosima's grave, I am indebted to the Wagner Society of Scotland for such rewarding memories.


Wagner and medical waiting lists

J. Ian S. Robertson, adapted from Doctors in Opera: An Irreverent Look at Operatic Medicine (Scottish Opera, 2012)


In none of Wagner’s thirteen operas is a doctor included, although Wagner has plenty of characters in need of medical attention, none more so than Amfortas with his chronic painful wound. Amfortas has, it seems, applied for a medical appointment but has been told, according to the information he confides in Gurnemanz, that he must await the person allocated to his case. Amfortas’s spirits have been further dampened by the news that the relevant consultant is an ‘innocent fool’. The delay is certainly lengthy. In the libretto it is said to be many years, remarkably similar to some NHS waiting times. Even played live in the theatre the duration is several hours. It is not until Act III that Parsifal treats Amfortas and heals his wound. In real life someone as important politically as Amfortas should either have been hurried up the queue or diverted to private care. Either of those courses would, however, have deprived us of both music and drama.


[Short pithy anecdotal or whimsical contributions such as this are welcomed: please contact the Editor.]


News in brief


●  Boydell and Brewer are offering a recent publication to members at a discount until 31 December: Wagner Visions: Poetry, Politics, and the Psyche in the Operas through ‘Die Walküre’ by Katherine R. Syer  (978 1 58046 482 6, September 2014). The offer price is £41.25 (normal price £55). Order online at or via mail or telephone: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DF (01394 610600). Quote reference 14239 when prompted (online this will be at the checkout). The Publishers’ usual postage rates will apply (£3 UK, £7.50 Europe, £13.50 International).

●  Dame Gwyneth Jones has reviewed Paul Dawson-Bowling’s two-volume work The Wagner Experience (Old Street Publishing, 2013) in The Wagnerian for 28 November; the review is available online at

●  Longborough Festival have announced the dates for Tristan und Isolde next year: 12, 16, 18, and 20 June. Note that the third of these performances has a second-cast Isolde (Lee Bisset) in place of Rachel Nicholls. Public booking opens on 2 March. Details at

●  Our Bayreuth Scholar for 2013 Anush Hovhannisyan has been awarded First Prize at the Concours Suisse Ernst Haefliger (Swiss International Singing Competition) held in Gstaad and Bern in August. For more information visit

●  Information about opera performances in Scotland can be found at


Dale Bilsland
22 West Chapelton Drive, Bearsden, Glasgow, G61 2DA
Telephone:  0141 942 0935  Mobile:  0776 691 2724


John Anderton
2 Glenlockart Road, Edinburgh, EH10 5RG
Telephone:  0131 447 1645

Treasurer & Membership Secretary

Peter Stuart
1C Pendreich Road, Bridge of Allan, Stirling, FK9 4PZ
Telephone:  0178 683 3804                

Newsletter Editor

Maureen McLennan
6 Merchiston Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4NR
Telephone:  0131 623 2920  Mobile:  0790 256 3232