Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)

30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018

£9.50 with National Art Pass (standard entry £19)

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This exhibition celebrates operatic history, from the 17th century to the present day.

Eva Gonzalès, Musée d'Orsay, c1874

The first exhibition to ever examine opera on a grand scale, this show tells a 400-year story. Beginning with its roots in Renaissance Italy and ending at the present day, it focuses on seven ground-breaking operatic premieres at theatres in Venice, London, Vienna, Milan, Paris, Dresden and St Petersburg.

Looking beyond the spectacle of the performances, the display examines the distinct cultural and political that landscape surrounded them. It highlights how the concerns of the time were played out on stage through composition, sound, set and costume design.

Significant loans include Salvador Dali’s creations for Peter Brook’s 1949 production of Salome; Manet’s Music in the Tuileries Gardens, which revealed the works as a counterpart to Wagner’s modernist approach to music in the 1860s; and a fantastic selection of original manuscripts including Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, from 1642.

Moments of controversy are also explored; whether that be the sensational, elaborate staging of Handel’s Rinaldo in 1711, or Shostakovich’s avant-garde Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which was banned under political censorship in 1936.

Contemporary interpretations include Philip Glass’s minimalist, non-narrative Einstein on the Beach.

Don't miss

The first exhibition to be staged in the museum's new purpose-built Sainsbury Gallery, it includes several new interactive features. For example, world-leading performances can be listened to on headphones, while there is also a full 360-degree sound installation of a new recording of the Royal Opera Chorus singing ‘Va pensiero’ (the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco. A programme of live events and performances, led by the Royal Opera House, will take place during the run of the show.

Venue information

Opening times

Daily, 10am – 5.45pm (Fri until 10pm)

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)