Opera Scotland

Packed to the gunnels: Is this a record?

Posted 14 Apr 2019

“It is stated that a month’s season of opera in Glasgow by the Carl Rosa Opera Company brought a total spectatorate of over 70,000. War time or no war time, this is surely a record for grand opera anywhere in Great Britain. Will anyone say no, and prove that it isn’t? 

  • Aberdeen Evening Express Thursday 22 March 1917 p3 “Music Notes”

Researching the numbers

This press report gives a rare indication of audience numbers. Business records for the time are extremely scarce, and tend to note only total income without regard to parts of the theatre or attendance. So we have to make do with claims such as this, difficult to prove or disprove.

However, we have the list of performances; seven a week for four weeks. The venue was the Theatre Royal; the last two weeks in February and the first two in March. Simple arithmetic gives average attendances of 2500+.  By contrast, the official capacity in 2019 is 1,541.

How did the theatres of those days hold so many? Of course, in the 'gods' and 'pit' people sat on benches rather than individual seats, and could be crammed in. There was also standing room. Management was happy to sell tickets and let people find their own place in their particular part of the house.  Nor was there in the theatres of those days much concern for fire precautions or health and safety. As the critic implies, a warm and escapist evening's entertainment must have held extra appeal in wartime.

The works these people saw

What were the operas that drew such crowds? The links may take you to a review later in the tour. They were:-

w/c Mon 18 Feb Tannhauser; Tue Carmen; Wed Madam ButterflyThu Faust; Fri Bohème; Sat m Tales of Hoffmann; Sat e Maritana.

w/c Mon 25 Feb Cav and Pag; Tue Bohème; Wed Merry Wives of Windsor; Thu Tales of Hoffmann; Fri Mignon; Sat m Madam Butterfly; Sat e Trovatore.

w/c Mon 4 Mar Carmen; Tue Tannhauser; Wed Bohème; Thu Faust; Fri Madam Butterfly; Sat m Tales of Hoffmann; Sat e Trovatore.

w/c Mon 11 Mar Cav and Pag; Tue Mignon; Wed Tales of Hoffmann; Thu Merry Wives of Windsor; Fri Bohème; Sat m Madam Butterfly; Sat e Maritana.

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