For those interested in the design and history of operatic performance, an exciting exhibition is currently on view in London with the artistic direction of Robert Carsen. The Victoria and Albert Museum, in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, creates a vivid and immersive journey through nearly 400 years of opera. The exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics is the first ever to explore opera on a grand scale, immersing visitors in some key moments of the history of European opera from its roots in Renaissance Italy to its present-day form, by focussing on seven operatic premieres in seven cities.
With more than 300 extraordinary objects on display, the exhibition reveals how opera brings together multiple art forms to create a multi-sensory work of art and shows how social, political, artistic and economic factors interact with great moments in the history of opera to tell a story of Europe over hundreds of years.
The narrative of the exhibition begins in Venice, a Renaissance centre of entertainment, gambling and disguise. The moment represents opera’s transition from private court entertainment to the public realm. Of particular interest is the original surviving manuscript score of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, an opera exploring scandal and ambition, which premiered in the Carnival season 1642-3.
The variety of objects on display include set models, costume designs, paintings depicting opera personalities and moments, autograph scores, librettos, and stage directions. Among others, Salvador Dali’s costume design for Peter Brook’s 1949 production of Salome and a dramatic, kinetic set re-creating Handel’s Rinaldo 1711 elaborate staging which caused a sensation at the time.
Footage from 20th- and 21st-century premieres create a finale showing how opera has moved from Europe across the world and continues to take on new forms.
Opera: Passion, Power and Politics can be visited at Victoria and Albert Museum, London, until 25 February 2018.
The exhibition is produced in collaboration with the Royal Opera House and is curated by the V&A’s Kate Bailey, Senior Curator of Design and Scenography, with curatorial consultancy from The Royal Opera’s outgoing Director of Opera Kasper Holten and Associate Director of Opera, John Fulljames.
Exhibition design is by Curious Space, with video design by Fray, lighting design by Paule Constable and sound design by David Sheppard. Graphic design is by Socio design.
The artistic direction is by Robert Carsen.