Brookes music historian features in BBC’s Opera Season

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

1920s Flapper style image

Dr Alexandra Wilson, Reader in Music, at Oxford Brookes University, has made a 45-minute Sunday Feature documentary for BBC Radio 3, based on her recent research into operatic life in 1920s Britain.

Entitled ‘A Flapper’s Guide to the Opera’ it can be heard on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 22 October.

The programme will transport the listener back in time. Dr Wilson will take listeners on an imaginary journey around the London of the 1920s, visiting the many and varied places where opera could be heard in those days and introducing some of the key operatic personalities of the era.

The documentary is part of the BBC’s season of opera programming featuring new films, documentaries, performances and special projects across BBC Two, BBC Four, Radio 3 and BBC Arts Digital.

It’s clear from looking at the historical sources that opera was not regarded as “elitist” in the 1920s but was seen as something for everyone.

Dr Alexandra Wilson, Reader in Music, Oxford Brookes University

In collaboration with the V&A and the Royal Opera House, BBC Opera Season aims to engage a wider audience with opera and to enthuse a new generation of opera lovers.

Dr Wilson’s exploration of operatic London takes her from the Royal Albert Hall to the East End. Opera could be heard in many diverse spaces during the 1920s. It was performed not only at glamorous Covent Garden but at more populist venues such as the Old Vic and in humble theatres that were used most of the time for variety shows or film screenings. 

Dr Alexandra Wilson

Alexandra says: “It’s clear from looking at the historical sources that opera was not regarded as “elitist” in the 1920s but was seen as something for everyone. There are many accounts of office boys and factory workers buying cheap tickets for the opera after hearing excerpts on gramophone records or the wireless.”

The documentary highlights the ways in which opera interacted with many different forms of popular culture. Alexandra visits a West End restaurant where excerpts from operas were staged alongside performances by jazz bands. And one of the quirkiest stories in the programme concerns a teacher in a deprived area of the Isle of Dogs who got his young schoolboys to put on a complete performance of The Magic Flute.

Dr Wilson features in the BBC’s promotional video available on the website along with more information about the opera season.

She was interviewed by BBC Radio London on 17 October, you can listen again online and a feature on her research also appeared in the recent issue of Classical Music Magazine

Dr Wilson's research was supported by a Mid-Career Fellowship from the British Academy and her monograph Opera in the Jazz Age: Cultural Politics in 1920s Britain is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.