Live Shows and the Cinema: The Gypsy Baron Premieres in the New Picture House

The Gypsy Baron is an operetta by Johann Strauss II first produced in 1885. It envisions a landowner’s marriage to a gypsy girl, daughter of a Turkish bashaw, at the height of Ottoman rule in Europe. The operetta created a sensation upon release and as a result, it was continuously adapted onto the stage across the world and adapted into film more than five times in the first half of the twentieth century.

The operetta enjoyed a different kind of rendition when put on by the St Andrews Amateur Operatic Society for the first time in St Andrews in 1966. The Society formed in 1939 to gather lovers of opera and create a base from which they could produce local plays and public performances of the masterworks of world opera together with some of their own favourites (Partial Personal Correspondence: NODA).

Instead of taking on the town’s well-known Byre Theatre, trademark host of many local plays and productions at the time, The Society’s performance of The Gypsy Baron ran in the New Picture House (NPH) on the 14, 15and 16 February 1966 (The Citizen, 12 February 1966). The Society began its relationship with the NPH – which was a site long used for local amateur shows – in 1947 with a production of “The Pirates of Penzance” (The Citizen, 8 February 1947) and throughout the 1950s both the NPH and The Citizen had well-established connections with The Society.

The Baron was – unlike many previous Society productions – intensively advertised by The Citizenfor one month in advance: every week a poster was included between NPH and Cinema House programmes on page four of The Citizen. The phrase “show business” is studded across a large 22 January advertisement of the Baron. Underneath it reads, from the “stables that brought you the winners “Oklahoma” and “Brigadoon”” (The Citizen, 22 January 1966).

The Society’s method of advertising is doubly effective. On the one hand, the Society speaks to mainstream film production by invoking the language of Hollywood (“show business”) and two of Hollywood’s famous 1950s productions. On the other, the Society actually refers to the productions of the same name put on by the Society in the 1950s, which St Andrews locals may recall. It thus doubles The Baron’s chances of success by invoking two strands of popular heritage: that of global Hollywood and that of the local Society and their history with amateur productions in the NPH.

Moreover, the Society plays on the local sensibilities by targeting the family audience: The Citizen advertises the production as a “show for all the family” (The Citizen, 22 January 1966), while another issue reads “Bring Your Family to this Sparkling Show” (The Citizen, 15 January 1966). This serves both to draw local opera fans (and families and friends of the performers) to the cinema and potentially to bring an existing cinema audience to the local show.

The premiere and the whole three days were, indeed, successful. The Baron was perhaps unsurprisingly praised in a two-page glorious review in The Citizen, which proclaimed “A revel of gaiety and colour”, “flawless and effortless”, with its performances commended as well as its family appeal (The Citizen, 19 February 1966). The presence of critical engagement when it came to this, and many later, local theatre productions indicates that St Andrews continuously supported the efforts of local societies throughout the twentieth century.

The brief run of The Gypsy Baron shows a Scottish picture house going against the norm of allowing mainstream film exclusivity in UK programmes as the NPH, together with the local press, supported the successful exhibition of a local production put on by an Amateur Operatic Society. The desire to reach a different audience and to connect art forms can still be seen today with performances of operatic and stage shows, transmitted ‘live’ on cinema screens across the country. The operatic society also continues, now operating under the name the St Andrews Musical Society.


Mina Radovic (2018)


Works cited


The Citizen, 8 February 1947; 2.

The Citizen, 15 January 1966; 22 January 1966; 29 January 1966; 5 February 1966; 12 February 1966; 4.

“Glittering Operatic Society Show” in The Citizen, 22 February 1966; 3.

National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA)