Tuesday 14 March 2017

Opera explodes into the autumn

Shostakovich's First Symphony, oil painting, Pavel Filonov, 1935, Russia. © State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow / Bridgeman Images
Shostakovich's First Symphony,
oil painting, Pavel Filonov, 1935, Russia.
© State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
 / Bridgeman Images
It seems that opera will be everywhere this Autumn. The Victoria and Albert's exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics opens on 30 September 2017 and is the first exhibition in the museum's new exhibition space which has been created as part of the museum's new Exhibition Road development. The exhibition is being given in association with the Royal Opera House and to coincide with the exhibition BBC Music will be working on themed programming across radio and television.

The exhibition, which runs until 25 February 2017, will use some 300 objects and filmed footage to tell a series of stories, each one concentrating on a particular operatic moment in a particular operatic city. So we have the premiere of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea in Venice in 1642, the premiere of Handel's Rinaldo in London in 1711, the premiere of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro in Vienna in 1786, the premiere of Verdi's Nabucco in Milan in 1842, the premiere of Wagner's Tannhauser in Paris in 1861, the premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome in Dresden in 1905 and the premiere of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mstensk in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) in 1934.

Highlights will include Salvador Dali's costume design for Peter Brook's 1949 production of Richard Strauss's Salome at Covent Garden, the original scord of Verdi's Nabucco, one of two surviving scores of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, Degas' painting of the ballet scene from Meyerbeer's opera Robert le Diable, Mozart's manuscript for Cherubino's aria 'Non so piu' from Le nozze di Figaro, Manet's painting Music in the Tuileries Garden, and Bernardo Strozzi's painting The viola da gamba musician which may be a portrait of his daughter, the singer and composer Barbara Strozzi, along with artefacts from opera productions both historic and contemporary. Original material from the premiere of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk will be reunited and displayed outside Russia for the first time, including the composer’s original autograph score, along with stage directions, libretto, set models and costume designs.

For opera lovers, a fascinating array of events and it will be intriguing to see what objects the exhibition brings together. But opera is a tricky art to enthuse outsiders about, and the British have a knack of doing this badly. Along with physical items there will be performances via headphones and a 360 degree sound installation of a new recording (by the Royal Opera Chorus) of 'Va pensiero' from Verdi's Nabucco.  and the Philharmonia's immersive Universe of Sound: The Planets (see my review) showed how an immersive experience can engage both experts and novice. The exhibition's artistic director is Robert Carsen, and it is being curated by the V&A's senior curator of design and scenography, Kate Bailey, with curatorial consultancy from Covent Garden's Kasper Holten and John Fulljames.

Over at the BBC, there will be a documentary on BBC Two with Lucy Worsley and Antonio Pappano, BBC Radio 3 will be presenting recordings of the seven operas which feature in the exhibition, there will be live broadcasts from the exhibition for In Tune and Music Matters and Composer of the Week  will feature operas by Puccini.

Full details of the exhibition from the V&A website.


  1. That's very interesting, thanks for letting us know in such detail.
    Just for complete accuracy: Mozart's opera premiered in Vienna. And Nabucco in 1842.
    Anyway lots to look forward to.

    1. Sorry for the typos, well spotted. All corrected now.


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