Italian opera was simultaneously popular and unfashionable in interwar Britain. It was popular with audiences from across the class spectrum. It was unfashionable with intellectuals who were anxious about its modularity, its collaborative model of production, and its interactions with popular culture and celebrity. This article considers the reception of Italian opera, its performers and audiences in interwar Britain, and the ways in which this intersected with broader discussions about taste formation and national identity in the so-called ‘battle of the brows’. Recent Italian operas – often likened at the time to cheap pot-boiler novels or films with mass market appeal – certainly complicated any claim that opera might be regarded as highbrow. Examining responses to such operas’ treatment of themes including religion and what one critic called ‘passionate love let loose’ can tell us much about how interwar Britons perceived both Italian culture and their own, at a time of vital cultural self-definition.
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