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The economics of opera in England: 1925-1939

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

The focus of my study is the financial management of opera in the UK during the interwar years. The early years of the 20th century were witness to huge shifts in the ‘business’ of opera as it progressed from the old model of elite patronage towards a more socially democratic art-form, in line with the class and moral changes of those times. This thesis presents a series of case studies that illustrate how opera in Britain was funded during the years prior to the formation of the Arts Council: in particular, they reveal how opera survived during these years, thanks to the efforts of several unsung heroes and their search for a financial solution. It has at its heart a simple question: why was it that opera in England, which had been profitable in the late years of the nineteenth century, was by 1945 financially unsustainable? My research, based primarily on business archives, reveals perspectives on changes in the ‘ownership’ of opera: from when it ceased to be a commercially viable enterprise to when it was partially funded by government and considered by some to be part of the welfare state. I use three case studies to illustrate social and economic changes in the British public’s relationship with opera and how different funding models were employed with varying degrees of success. The first investigates the efforts of Elizabeth Courtauld at Covent Garden during 1925-27; the second is a detailed investigation into the circumstances surrounding the first government grant to opera in 1930; the third considers the actions of John Christie at Glyndebourne during the period 1934-39. My analysis of these years makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the national operatic heritage and of the institutions and systems of funding of opera that exist today.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2019


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