A LITANY of controversy and crises, rows and resignations, deficits

and internal dramas, together worthy of a place in the highly charged

atmosphere of its own genre, may have diverted public attention from the

fact that Scottish Opera is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

A royal gala concert in October, to be attended by the Duchess of

Gloucester, will focus on the glitter and glamour of events at the

company's Theatre Royal home, at the top of Hope Street, Glasgow.

The problems, which have been well documented, will be set aside to

remind us of the sheer romance which surrounded the origins of Scottish

Opera back in those pioneering days as the late 1950s prepared to give

way to that decade which would swing.

They are memories which are cherished not least by Ian B. Rodger, a

retired Glasgow lawyer, who found himself unexpectedly caught up as the

man who would marshal into a practical and commercial reality the

artistic dreams of Alexander Gibson, the lad from Motherwell who was

then making a name for himself as an orchestral conductor.

Mr Rodger remembers it all from the comfort of a spacious West End

flat, appropriately the former home of the late Tom Honeyman, the

forgotten man who attracted the Burrell Collection, persuaded Salvador

Dali to sell the city his famous painting of Christ, and did more than

any other to prepare his native patch for its honour as European City of


Mr Rodger, now 78, was just another music lover, attending concerts in

the old St Andrew's Halls, as he graduated in law from Glasgow

University in 1938. After serving as an officer with the Royal Signals

in Africa he found himself in Italy at the end of the war.

There he acquired a taste for opera, taking in Tosca in Rome and Faust

in Venice. In Milan he saw what was left of the bombed-out La Scala.

Back home, he settled into a solicitors' practice and resumed a

friendship with Ainslie Millar, a chartered surveyor with whom he had

climbed before the war and attended concerts after it.

A good amateur singer, Millar became the Scottish trustee of the

Sadler's Wells in London, which wanted a local representative when its

touring company came north.

Little did Rodger and Millar realise how they would come to be part of

the chemistry leading to the formation of an opera company in Scotland

-- two of the four principal characters involved. It is interesting to

study the various stages.

Since most ambitious schemes originate with one individual, the first

thread of Scottish Opera leads us back to just before the Second World

War when young Alex Gibson, a pupil at Dalziel High School, was taken by

his parents to the Theatre Royal in Glasgow for a performance of Madama

Butterfly, with Joan Hammond and Parry Jones in the lead.

At 12, Gibson was at the beginning of a serious interest in music. He

went on to perform in school productions of Gilbert and Sullivan and was

soon embarking on a career which would take him to the Royal Scottish

Academy of Music and then the Royal College of Music in London.

A talented pianist, he was also developing that early interest in

opera, conducting student productions, and finding his way to Sadler's

Wells. Having strengthened his experience under Ian Whyte of the BBC

Scottish Orchestra, Gibson was in line to become conductor of the

Scottish National Orchestra in 1959.

Before leaving his conductor's job at Sadler's Wells, however, he was

having a coffee with one of the staff producers, fellow-Scot and opera

buff John Donaldson, who expressed regret at his departure but wondered

if he had thought of starting opera in Scotland.

The seed had been sown, the germinating interest was already there. It

became a talking point with other fellow-Scots in the company, such as

singers David Ward, Harold Blackburn, and William McAlpine.

Alexander Gibson now had his dream more clearly before him and

therefore became the first of the four key characters in the story.

The second important figure emerged from the shadows in one of those

rare chances of fate. Gibson had a letter one day from Richard Telfer,

once a cinema organist in Edinburgh, a music teacher at George Watson's

College, who helped to run the Edinburgh International Festival in its

early days.

He wanted some advice on a local production of La Traviata and the two

men met. Gibson struck up an immediate rapport with Telfer, who turned

out to be a versatile musician with an encyclopaedic knowledge of

operatic history.

He responded with instant enthusiasm to Gibson's idea for opera in


The third vital factor was the same Ainslie Millar, now paying his

first visit to London as a trustee of Sadler's Wells and meeting up for

a late-night session with Gibson. Once again, the young conductor

floated his idea and once again he met with a burst of enthusiasm and

promise of total support.

Gibson's dream owed something to the structure of music in Vienna,

where the Philharmonic Orchestra was also the band of the Vienna State


His own team was beginning to emerge as he set out for his homeland

and his new job with the Scottish National Orchestra, which would fully

absorb his energies in the early stages at least.

But Gibson's flat in Westbourne Gardens, Glasgow, soon became his

meeting place with Richard Telfer and Ainslie Millar as they began to

address themselves to the task of bringing their dream to reality.

There had been no opera-going tradition in Scotland. Now there could

be a possibility of employing the Scottish National Orchestra in its

off-season gaps.

So it was time to introduce the fourth essential element in the

creation of Scottish Opera -- someone who could put it all on a legal

footing. Ainslie Millar's friend, Ian Rodger the solicitor, was just the

chap for the job.

''I got to work and formed the company, putting it on a basis of

commercial reality,'' he explains. ''We got ourselves recognised as a

charity, which enabled us to accept donations without paying tax.

''But the Arts Council was difficult. Nowadays they give about #3m a

year but when you are starting out, you have to make a reputation for

yourself before you get any State subsidy.

''The idea was to use the King's Theatre, Glasgow, as our venue and to

employ the Scottish National Orchestra and Scottish singers where

possible. But with no support forthcoming in the beginning, the plans to

launch opera in 1961 creaked to a standstill.''

All attention was now on 1962 and it was Richard Telfer, destined to

become the company archivist, who came up with the idea that they could

do something quite startling.

This would be the centenary of Debussy's birth. The composer had

written only one opera, Pelleas et Melisande, which had not been seen in

Scotland for 40 years.

But when it had its premiere at the Opera Comique in Paris in 1902,

the leading part had been taken by the famous Scottish soprano, Mary

Garden, who was still living in retirement in her native Aberdeenshire.

What a splendid idea . . . for that first week of Scottish Opera,

testing the local waters at the King's Theatre, they would put on three

performances of Debussy's opera and three of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

Butterfly had a disappointing audience on that opening night of June

5, 1962, the attendance being surprisingly higher for Pelleas et

Melisande on the following evening.

Because of a mishap, the 85-year-old Mary Garden was unable to attend

what would have been the diamond jubilee of her memorable premiere in


Scottish Opera was on its way, to the sound of much acclaim, as part

of a cultural pattern which was now taking shape. Scotland had its drama

and its orchestra; now it had its own opera and soon there would be

ballet as well.

In the absence of State support, the company was all the more grateful

to Scottish Television for a donation of #1000, which helped offset the

cost of that opening venture, which was #6760.

Professor Robin Orr, of the Chair of Music at Glasgow University,

became chairman and his counterpart in Edinburgh, Professor Sydney

Newman, became vice-chairman.

Distinguished names such as Peter Hemmings and Peter Ebert were

engaged for administration and production, and milestones were soon

being chalked along the way as the Scottish public began to realise it

had a full-time professional opera company of its own.

There were memorable productions of Otello and Cosi Fan Tutte and a

distinguished array of performers, such as Charles Craig, Janet Baker,

and Elizabeth Harwood.

In time the Scottish National Orchestra found it could not cope with

the expanding schedule and the pit was occupied by the BBC Scottish

Symphony and the Scottish Chamber before the company established its own

full-time orchestra.

The biggest development of all came in 1975, when Scottish Television

moved into new studios, making available for restoration its original

home, the adjoining Theatre Royal.

That became the proper home of Scottish Opera, at the same time

bringing its own problems of finance. An appeal was launched with the

intention of raising #3m, of which #2m would be needed for purchase and

conversion, leaving #1m of capital which would produce a healthy return

on investment.

But financial affairs are seldom that simple. The #2m cost ended up as

#2.7m -- and the target of #3m was not reached.

The brilliant Peter Hemmings went off to be general manager of the

much-publicised Sydney Opera House in 1977 and was succeeded by the

former director of productions, Peter Ebert, who came back from

Wiesbaden to tackle administration.

But Ebert quit in 1980, after a conflict with his board over policy

and priorities.

Meanwhile, the man with the original dream, by now Sir Alexander

Gibson, completed 25 years with Scottish Opera at a 1987 royal gala

performance of Madama Butterfly.

What better choice than the Puccini opera which had not only raised

the curtain on his ambitious venture in 1962 but had been his very first

taste of the art-form in those pre-war days as a schoolboy?

In an area which must always depend on sponsorship, there continues to

be a mounting deficit, offset by some recent Government assistance which

came as a lucky stroke. The Theatre Royal is about to be refurbished at

a cost of #800,000.

Of the original pioneers of Scottish Opera, the 66-year-old Sir

Alexander chooses his engagements on a freelance basis. Ainslie Millar

died two years ago. Richard Telfer lives in a home in Edinburgh, aged


At 78, Ian Rodger, who became chairman of the company, looks back on

their exciting adventure and says: ''Opera is an acquired taste and the

most complex of the performing arts. But it has been an enormously

rewarding experience -- and we just marvel at what has come of that

early dream.''