Radio Times/1924/01/04/Why Opera Should be Broadcast
Why Opera Should be Broadcast.
By PERCY PITT.
Mr. Percy Pitt is one of the foremost of living conductors, and his views should prove specially interesting to listeners, as he is Musical Controller of the B.B.C. Mr. Pitt is also Artistic Director of the British National Opera Company, and in the following article discusses some of the operas to be produced during the Company's forthcoming season at Covent Garden, and gives his reasons why opera should be broadcast.
I am sometimes asked what I think of the present standard of operatic taste in this country; whether it is higher or lower than it was some ten years ago, or whether it has improved and attained a consistently higher level. My experience inclines me to the belief that an improvement has taken place. Certainly am I of the opinion that our people now think more of opera in the vernacular than they did before the war. It is, perhaps, difficult to give any definite reason for this change, although it may, of course, be put down to the improved enunciation of our operatic singers, and the fact that an English audience can take a more intelligent interest in the dramatic action when it understands the words and can follow their meaning.
Then again—and this applies particularly to the interest in Wagner's works—the steady propaganda which has now been carried out for some years by Sir Henry Wood at his annual season of Promenade Concerts, where not only attached operatic numbers but, in some eases, entire acts have been performed, may account to some extent for the ever-growing appreciation of the German master's works.
Be this as it may, it is an extremely gratifying sign and one which has perhaps gone a long way towards lightening the burdens of the operatic entrepreneur. I feel that I can only attribute the wider appreciation of opera to these factors which a decade ago were not regarded as of vital importance, but which to-day most certainly are.
Important New Work.
As many would doubtless welcome some news regarding the forthcoming season of the British National Opera Company at Covent Garden, I may at once say that it will comprise some features of permanent interest; for instance, amongst the new works, and revivals of operas which will be included, I should like to draw attention to Alkestis, by Rutland Boughton, which will have its first real public performance during the early days of the season. In a sense it has been produced before, it is true, at Glastonbury in the summer of 1922; but this was of a semi-private nature, inasmuch as many of the audience were present by invitation and the performance in a concert hall was without orchestra.
The forthcoming production by the British National Opera Company will take place with a special mise-en-scène of scenery and costumes designed by Oliver Bernard, technical adviser to the Company, and the rehearsals will be supervised by the composer.
The restoration of Verdi's Othello to the repertoire of the Company is a matter of considerable interest, because it is entirely owing to the fact of its having been received with so much favour during the past autumn tour of the Company in the provinces.
It is curious how often one finds the standard of musical taste set in this fashion: places, for instance, like Manchester and Glasgow have certainly a high standard of appreciation, and the keen enthusiasm displayed by their audiences is little 1 short of remarkable.
In addition to these works, there is to be produced, in English, for the first time in London, one of Puccini's three short operas, Gianni Schicchi. Further, Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande, which is being performed in English, also for the first time. Both these works, too, have been very successfully produced during the Company's recent provincial tour, a fact which has encouraged us to include them in this London season.
Debussy's opera will be played in a new English version, which has been specially prepares! by Mr. Edwin Evans, the title-roles being taken by Miss Maggie Teyte, who sang the part with considerable success at the Opera Comique in Paris, and by Mr. Walter Hyde. Lovers of Debussy's music will, in all probability, have an opportunity of hearing a further example of his work during this season in the shape of Kkamma, which takes the form of a short Ballet-Pantomime. This is said to be the last work he wrote before his death a few years ago.
Beyond these operas, the repertoire will be drawn from a very comprehensive number of works performed by the Company, including a fair sprinkling of Wagner, together with some of the French and Italian masterpieces. While the operas to be produced for the first time in English have all been played before in thin country in their original language, it will be interesting to observe with what success the new English versions will meet. Pelléas and Mélisande, for instance, has often been performed in French, in London, but never with a great amount of success; whereas, the English edition, as produced by the Company in the provinces, has met with a large amount of favour.
The work of the British National Opera Company in producing British operas before a public steeped in the old traditions that the best music can only come from foreign countries has been enthusiastically received, and so far as it is possible to reconcile the financial and the artistic sides of the undertaking, the Company will continue to produce the finest British works at its disposal. It has already the production of three absolute novelties to its credit, and in addition to that of Mr. Rutland Boughton's Alkestis, there is the possibility of other works seeing the light under its auspices.
It must not, however, be forgotten that British composers of operatic work have greater difficulties to overcome than is the cave with the composers abroad. On the Continent this form of art is a vital part in the musical life of the people, and opera houses are found not only in the capitals, but even in towns of medium size. As opera is largely subsidized and every encouragement is given by the authorities for its development, it is possible to fix the prices of admission on a scale which encourages all classes of the community to familiarize themselves with the best operatic works. Composers have the chance of gaining a thorough practical experience and knowledge of the requirements of the operatic stage, and whilst there is no royal road to success, the knowledge born of this practical experience gives them an insight into technical requirements that it is not always possible to gain in countries where opera is a matter of private speculation.
Seeing What They Had Heard.
As far as the man in the street is concerned, I am confident, however, that broadcasting will develop a wider appreciation of opera in hundreds of thousands of homes, and, as a matter of fact, I have heard of people living in distant parts of the British Isles who were amazed to find that operatic music should prove so much more agreeable to their taste than they had ever imagined. In many cases, too, they were living at places far removed from the centres at which our performances were given, but, through broadcasting, were able to enjoy the unique sensation that good music alone can procure.
Frequently audiences have been in part recruited as a direct result of hearing a particular act of some opera broadcast, the impression thus made on them being so strong that they could not resist the desire to see what they had heard. This development of musical taste augurs well for the future of British music, and I have every confidence that a few years hence British Opera and British music generally will feel many increased benefits as a result of members of the public having the best music taken to them in their own homes.
In conclusion, I need hardly add that the British National Opera Company will continue to give the audiences the best that lies within its power, not only as far as new works are concerned, but also new artistes.