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Opera in the Jazz AgeCultural Politics in 1920s Britain$
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Alexandra Wilson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190912666

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190912666.001.0001

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(p.96) Chapter 4 Boundaries
Opera in the Jazz Age

Alexandra Wilson

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers opera’s interactions with various forms of popular culture in 1920s Britain. It establishes that ‘cultural purity’ was important to highbrow commentators but not to those with middlebrow taste, and explains that opera, as a hybrid art form, was problematic in this regard. The chapter considers the ways in which the newer form of cinema was perceived to be posing a threat to live opera, but reveals that film and opera interacted in productive ways. It also draws surprising connections between opera and jazz and examines opera’s appearances in popular fiction. The latter part of the chapter is devoted to the relationship between opera recordings and the notion of the bestseller, a problematic new term in the context of the battle of the brows. 1920s concerns about the commercialisation of listening and reading are considered, as are those about new audiences and who had the right to consume culture.

Keywords:   opera, Britain, 1920s, highbrow, middlebrow, jazz, film, bestseller, reading, recording

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