Music Theatre and Dance ~ Selected Key Figures, Companies and productions in the 19th and 20th Century.





“When I sit alone in a theatre and gaze into the dark space of its empty stage, I’m frequently seized by fear that this time I won’t manage to penetrate it, and I always hope that this fear will never desert me. Without an unending search for the key to the secret of creativity, there is no creation. It’s necessary always to begin again. And that is beautiful.” – Josef Svoboda, Czech artist and scenic designer.

Developments leading to the the late 20th century experience in Scotland may be seen in the international context, drawing on the experience within North America and Europe and drawing on personal experiences.  Among the many contributors to the development of theatrical and cinematic art, are some towering and influential Britons and Germans.

In addition to the the American composers, lyricists and cinematographers, the practical and theoretical contributions of Edward Gordon Craig and Wieland Wagner are dominant.  In many cases, such figures had some association with Scottish technicians and inventors.  It is fascinating to determine some of the connections between the mainstream development and practice within Ayrshire, notably with Craigie College of Education, The Compass Club and Ayr Intimate Opera during the later years of the 20th century.

When the drama left the open sunlit spaces of ancient Greece and migrated to the closetted darkness of the medaeval church or the great halls of the mighty, the the skillful application of selective darkness, offset by areas of directional illumination, became increasingly important, particularly where something beyond the simple spectacular of the court masque was demanded.

In the mid-20th century the pursuit of this ideal dominated theatre technology and the development of television services, leading to the diversity available to actors and directors today.

[Text draws on Theatre is Style: Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Craig, The Studio and other material in the public domain.]

Some Key Innovations in Contemporary Design

Appia Adolphe Appia's design for Orpheus, at the Hellerau Eurythmics Centre1913 (Rabbit Hole,).  

Date:  1913
Photographer: Unknown .  

Tristan 1962
Tristan und Isolde Act 2.  Wieland Wagner's 1962 Production of Richard Wagner's Opera at Bayreuth. 

Date: 1969. 
Photographer: Unknown, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele  Reproduced in 1876 Bayreuth 1992, published by ©Bayreuther Festspiele GMBH 1991

Edward Gordon Craig's design for Stanislavski's Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Moscow Arts Theatre
.  Performed 1912 in Moscow.  

Date: 1908.  
Photographer: Unknown.

Back to Methuselah. Ralph Koltai's design for the National Theatre, London.  

Date 1968
Photographer: Unknown.Ralph Koltai and the National Theatre

Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, the 1972 revival by Sadler's Wells in Glasgow.

Date: 1972.  
Photographer: Unknown.   Rank Strand Archive

Design: Hamlet for Moscow Arts Theatre by Edward Gordon Craig

Date: 1910.  
Photographer: Unknown.

Tristam amd Isolde, design by John Bury 1972.  
Photographer: Unknown.

Stage design for Oedipus Rex, by Josef Svoboda

Date: 1963  
Photographer: Unknown.

Tristan and Isolde.  Design by Josef Svoboda. 

Date: 1972.  
Photographer: Unknown.

Peter Goffin's design for Act 1 of Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeoman of the Guard, introducing his scenic panels and inserts.

Photographer: Unknown.   ©D'Oyly Carte archive.

Act 2 of Playboy of the Western World (Detail) at Ayr Civic Theatre.  Design and production by Bill Grierson in setting using material from Don Giovanni (Scottish Opera) by Koltai.

Date: 1980.  
Photographer: Mike Bailey.

Women of Troy
Women of Troy, Craigie College of Education, Ayr

DAte: 1972.  
Photographer: Unknown.

Model of Ralph Koltai's design for The Tempest, Chichester Fesitival Theatre.

Photographer: ©Ralph Koltai.

Act 2 of Bizet's Carmen at Ayr Pavilion.  Design and production by Bill Grierson using composite assembly of material from Don Giovanni and Otello (both Scottish Opera) by Koltai.

DAre: 1977.  
Photographer: ©Ken Ferguson.

Adolphe Appia (1862 - 1928)
Adolphe Appia

Date: ca. 1900,
Photographer unknown. Source Beinecke Library.  Original Image believed to be out of copyright.

Adolphe Appia, son of Red Cross co-founder Louis Appia, was a Swiss architect and theorist of stage lighting and décor.  He is probably best known for his many scenic designs for Wagner’s operas in which he rejected painted two-dimensional sets for three-dimensional 'living' sets because he believed that shade was as necessary as light to form a connection between the actor and the setting of the performance in time and space. Through the use of control of light intensity, colour and manipulation, Appia created a new perspective of scene design and stage lighting.

For further information, please follow this LINK.  or


Edward Gordon Craig (1872 - 1966)
Edward Gordon Craig

Date: ca. 1900,
Photographer unknown. Source Beinecke Library.  Original Image believed to be out of copyright.

Edward Henry Gordon Craig, sometimes known as Gordon Craig, was an English modernist theatre practitioner; he worked as an actor, director and scenic designer, as well as developing an influential body of theoretical writings. Craig was the son of revered actress Dame Ellen Terry.

The illegitimate son of the architect Edward Godwin, Craig was born Edward Godwin in Stevenage.  Baptised at age 16 as Edward Henry Gordon, he took the surname Craig by deed poll at age 21.

Craig spent much of his childhood (from the age of eight, in 1889 to 1897) backstage at the Lyceum Theatre, where his mother was the leading lady to actor Sir Henry Irving.

Craig asserted that the director was 'the true artist of the theatre' and, controversially, suggested viewing actors as no more important than marionettes.

For further information, please follow this LINK.  or


Scottish Opera and Sir Alexander Gibson
Sir Alexander Gibson (1926-1995)

Date: ca1980
Photographer: Unknown

SirAlexander Gibson was born in Motherwell. He studied at the University of Glasgow and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. He was appointed Sadller's Wells youngest Music Director in 1957 where he conducted a total of twenty-six operas, making his Covent Garden debut in the same year conducting Puccini's Tosca.

Gibson returned to Scotland in 1959 to become the principal conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra. He founded Scottish Opera in 1962. The first season opened at the King's Theatre, Glasgow, with Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande.

For further information about the earliest years of Scottish Opera and their links withh Ayr, please follow this LINK.  or


Carl Rosa and the Carl Rosa Touring Opera Company
Carl Rosa
Carl August Nicolas Rosa (1873 - 89)

Date: c1880
Photographer unknown. Original Image believed to be out of copyright.

Carl Rosa (1873 - 89), musical director and founder of the Carl Rosa Touring Opera Company.

Carl August Nicolas Rosa was born in Hamburg in 1842.  He was the founder, together with his wife, the Edinburgh-born soprano Euphrosyne Parepa, of the opera company which did so much for opera in English.

Trained as a violinist, he was educated at the Conservatorium at Leipzig and afterwards in Paris. Settling in England in 1872, after periods in the USA and Egypt, he opened his operatic management in London at the Princess’s Theatre. He gathered together the finest operatic material available,with immediate success. His season lasted six weeks, during which time his repertoire included: Figaro, Faust, The Porter of Havre (Cagnoni), Fra Diavolo, Bohemian Girl, Trovatore, The Water Carrier (Cherubini) and Siege of Rochelle. Rosa Hersee and Charles Santley were among the singers.

For further information, please follow this LINK.  or


Wieland Wagner (1917 - 1966)
Wieland Wagner

Date: ca1960
Photographer: Siegfried Lauterwasser, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele

Wieland Wagner (1917 - 1966)

Wieland Wagner was a grandson of Richard Wagner, author and composer of the Ring of the Niebelungen, a monumental gestation of late German romanticism, Wieland (together with his younger brother Wolfgang) was director of the Bayreuth Festival when it was revived in 1951.  He was noted for his ascetic approach to design and his recognition of the continuity of dramatic ideals from the Greek theatre into contemporary work.  As a technician and visionary, he was a worthy successor to his grandfather.

Wieland Wagner was the elder of two sons of Siegfried and Winifred Wagner, grandson of composer Richard Wagner, and great-grandson of composer Franz Liszt through Wieland's paternal grandmother.

Wieland Wagner is credited as an initiator of 'Regietheater' through ushering in a new modern style to Wagnerian opera as a stage director and designer, substituting a symbolic for a naturalist staging and focusing on the psychology of the drama.

Wieland began his directorial career before World War II, working on operas by his father and grandfather. From September 1944 to April 1945 he held a sinecure at the Institut für physikalische Forschung in Bayreuth, founded by his brother-in-law Bodo Lafferentz.

For further information, please follow this LINK.  or


D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Richard D'Oyly Carte, Ruper D'Oyly Carte and Peter Goffin
Richard D'Oyly Carte.  

Date: Unknown.
Photographer: Ellis & Walery, scanned from page 6 of the 1914 edition of Cellier & Bridgeman's Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas

Richard D'Oyly Carte (3 May 1844 – 3 April 1901)

Richard D'Oyly Carte was one of the most successful theatrical impresarios the latter half of the Victorian era. Rising from humble beginnings, Carte built two of London's theatres and a hotel empire, while also establishing an opera company that ran continuously for over a hundred years and a management agency representing some of the most important artists of the day.  

Carte started his career in his father's music publishing and musical instrument manufacturing business. As a young man, he conducted and composed music, but he soon turned to promoting the entertainment careers of others through his management agency.

Carte believed that a school of wholesome, well-crafted, family-friendly, English comic opera could be as popular as the risqué French works dominating the London musical stage in the 1870s. To that end, he brought together the dramatist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan and, together with his wife Helen Carte, he nurtured their collaboration on a series of thirteen Savoy operas. He founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and built the state-of-the-art Savoy Theatre to host the Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

For further information, please follow this LINK.  or


Josef Svoboda (1920 – 2002)
Josef Svoboda.

Date: ca. 1970
Photographer: unknown (reproduced from website

Josef Svoboda (1920 – 2002)

Josef Svoboda was a Czech artist and scenic designer who was associated with the Prague Quadrenniale Theatre Design events and the Prague National Theatre, with work that impacted throughout Europe in the post war years.

Born in Čáslav, Svoboda began his training as an architect at the Central School of Housing in Prague. At the end of World War II, he became interested in theatre and design. He began to study scenography at the Prague Conservatory and architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts.

Svoboda became the principal designer at the Czech National Theatre in 1948 and held that position for more than 30 years.  His work was well known among the many young British designers working in the post war years.

For further information, please follow this LINK.  or


Bill Grierson and Stage Design in Ayrshire ca 1975
Bill Grierson in the role of Sir Thomas More, in John Whiting's A Man for All Seasons.

Date: 1972
Photographer: Eddie snf \Compass Club Archive.

Bill Grierson

Actor, director and stage designer, Grierson was influenced by the lighting and scenic developments of the mid-century period and brought many innovative designs and productions to Ayrshire while working closely with informed and experienced colleagues.

For further information, please follow this LINK.  or


Top  ~  Contact Us  ~  Cookies and Site Information  ~