Radio Times/1923/11/16/Do You Enjoy Grand Opera?
DO YOU ENJOY GRAND OPERA?
An Interview with Mr. Paget Bowman.
One of the most interesting personalities in the modern musical world is Mr. Paget Bowman, the advisory director of the British National Opera Company.
Mr. Bowman is a solicitor, but he combines with great assiduity in his profession the somewhat unusual attribute for a solicitor—a great passion for music. He has been closely identified with the British National Opera Company since its inception, but during the war he, in conjunction with Miss Lena Ashwell, did excellent work in providing good music for the soldiers in France. He was also largely responsible for the concerts for the troops which were held in Ciro's.
The Wrong Turning.
The other day a representative of The Radio Times interviewed Mr. Bowman to ascertain his views on the influence of broadcasting on grand opera.
"Well, Mr. Bowman, before we get on to more serious business, can you recall any particularly amusing or interesting incident in your experience of grand opera?"
"I am afraid," he replied, "that humour is not exactly our strong point in grand opera. I remember, however, we were appearing in a Northern town where Mr. Robey was also appearing at a local pantomime. Two men came in and sat through a great part of the first set of Tannhauser, when one said to the other. "I say, Bill, is that 'ere fat bloke Robey?" It was some time before they found they had taken the wrong turning.
"Then, when we were in Bradford, we held a competition for school children and offered prizes for the best essays on the performance. One little chap of seven was good enough to say that he thought that Hansel and Gretel was nicer than a pantomime, but what struck him most was the holes in Hansel and Gretel's stockings!
"An older boy said 'Hansel and Gretel are all piffle. Bogeys and ghosts don't exist.' Several of the children expressed their pleasure that Gretel was able to push the witch into the oven. But perhaps the most mordant remark was that of the boy who said what impressed him most at the opera was 'them women with short skirts and little socks pretending to be kids.'
Opera Before Necessities.
"But, as I have said," continued Mr. Bowman, "humour is not what one expects at opera, and the recollections I treasure meet are those of elderly ladies, perhaps not in very good circumstances, who have denied themselves some of the necessities of life to be present at our operatic performances. The real follower of opera has a11 the zeal of the devotee."
"How does it come that opera has, comparatively speaking, such a poor following in this country?"
"It is very expensive to run opera on an adequate scale, and in every other country where opera is popular there is a subsidy either from Government or other sources. Alto, perhaps, there has been a prevailing impression that opera can only be properly appreciated by highbrows, an impression that was to some extent created by the fact that operas were usually rendered in any language but English. Some years before the war, Richter gave the 'Ring' Cycle of Wagner in English. These performances created an extraordinary furore, and clearly demonstrated that there was a public for the best opera if it were intelligible to the audiences. I firmly believe that if you can only induce people to attend one or two operatic performances they will become enthusiastic for opera, and that is where broadcasting comes in.
"Broadcasting affords an unrivalled means of introducing opera to the public. It was impossible to listen to the extracts given last winter, with the salvoes of applause and cheering at the end of the acts, and not have one's interest aroused. Broadcasting should play a great part in developing the musical taste of the country. Thousands of children ate getting to know something about opera to-day through the instrumentality of wireless. That is a most hopeful sign for the future.
"A heavy responsibility rests upon the Broadcasting Company to provide only the best. I am aware that all tastes have to be catered for, but if the B.B.C. go on appealing to the highest instinct, they will find an ever-increasing demand for the best."
"Are you convinced that broadcasting helps the actual performances so far as attendance is concerned?"
We know of many who have come to the operas after hearing excerpts broadcast; but, on the other hand, we don't know how many may have been kept away. especially in Scotland" (this with a smile), "because they prefer to listen at hone. I am convinced, however, that this will adjust itself in time. So long us wireless remains a novelty, people may sit at home for a time: but when they hear the applause and the enthusiasm as well as the music, they will go and see it the next time. The personal equation can never be displaced, and in opera, almost more than anything else, personality counts."
"Don't you think that in some cases it is better to hear but not to see the performers? The figures of some of the great singers do not approximate very closely to the parts they have to play."
"There is not so much in that as them used to be," said Mr. Bowman. "In the British National Opera Company we try to give our artistes parts that will suit them in all respects."
Come to Stay.
In answer to a question about theatres and broadcasting Mr. Bowman said:—
"I am only sorry that we have been unable to broadcast opera in some of the provincial towns. I can imagine no better advertisement for a play than judicious excerpts broadcast, say, on the opening night of a week's run. If it was a really good performance, it would bring all the people from the surrounding areas flocking to the theatre on the following nights.
"I believe that broadcasting has come to stay," he added, "and no combination of interests arrayed against it can stay its program. Broadcasting seems to be enlisted in popular favour, and that being so, I think it wise to utilize it us much as possible—both in our own interests and in the interests of broadcasting. When we have our next Covent Garden season, we hope again to have excerpts from the operas broadcast.
"It is became we believe that, broadcasting will help to popularize opera that the British National Opera Company is desirous of working with the B.B.C. I believe that broadcasting, if kept on high lines, can do much to remove the reproach which has often been made against Britain of being a country where music languishes."