Opera: Passion, Politics & Power

The V&A are hosting a a fascinating exhibition that will appeal to any culture vulture, not just opera lovers. I admit, aside from my interest and enjoyment in opera, I know very little about its origination and history. The V&A in collaboration with The Royal Opera House, explore 400 years of operatic history from the genre’s origins through seven different cities that it flourished in.

You are encouraged to wear headphones as different music from famous operas and eras follows you around the exhibition. Starting in Venice, through to Moscow, the exhibition is a whistle stop tour of the politics that created and sculpted opera. Fascinating.

Starting in Venice in the sixteenth century, opera found popularity in its beautiful opulence, ironically when Venice was losing its importance as a key port.

Next up is London, of course, which under the reign of the art, music & theatre loving Queen Anne, opera boomed. At this time, London was growing in importance, contrasting with Venice and so there was a flush of international trade and Handel. The German composter took the city by storm. There is a beautiful wooden stage that is a reconstruction of the Queen’s Theatre Haymarket, where waves are created by rotating spiral columns and mermaids are pulled by trolleys across the stage.

On to Vienna the European hotspot for culture. Where Mozart’s handwritten composition is on display.

In the early 1800’s Italy was under Austrian occupation and the big opera house La Scala in Milan was used for political meetings as well as music. Many of the operas were filled with politics meanings and symbols at that time. Italians did, and still today, see opera as part of their identity.

Later in the century, Paris is fast becoming a place to be in cultural circles.  Here, the premiere of Richard Wagner’s Tannhauser causes a scandal. Unusual it’s not popular at first soon becomes one of the most important operas ever.

Dresden stages Salome. It has been banned in Vienna and London because of its erotic, dark and disturbing theme. This almost becomes a mania in the press and is linked with the rise of women’s equality and Freud’s work.

The last city we visit is Moscow. Once Stalin comes to power, anything that doesn’t comply with Soviet ideas or can be seen as politically charged against soviet rule is banned.

The last room of different operas on small screens. Is this the future?

I suggest you visit a couple of times as there is a lot to take in and is a joy.

Only on until 25th Feb, I urge you to go.

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