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The V&A is an Opera House

The Royal Opera House and the Victoria and Albert Museum have come together to devise a journey through four centuries of opera

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Text by Rab Messina

The Royal Opera House and the Victoria and Albert Museum have come together to explore four centuries of sung drama in Opera: Passion, Power and Politics.

With more than 300 objects on display, the powerhouse exhibition highlights key moments in the history of European opera, focusing on seven premieres in seven cities. There’s, for example, Salvador Dalí’s costume design for Peter Brook’s 1949 Salomé, Edouard Manet’s Music in the Tuileries Gardens to contextualise a Wagner composition and the original score of Verdi’s Nabucco, on loan from Milan’s Archivio Storico Ricordi.

Apart from digital footage of opera performances, visitors can listen to performances on headphones while exploring cities and objects —an immersive sensorial experience. The highlight in this aural path is a new recording of Nabucco’s Va pensiero by the Royal Opera Chorus, played inside a 360-degree sound installation.

The exhibition goes beyond the museum: Passion, Power and Politics will coincide with the broadcast of a BBC Two documentary series hosted by Lucy Worsley, exploring the same operas; BBC Radio 3 will transmit live performances of all seven featured works, while the King’s College London will provide a free MOOC on the core tenets of opera.

The exhibition, the first to be featured in the Sainsbury Gallery, is on display on February 25

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Music in the Tuileries Garden Edouard Manet (1832-83) Oil on canvas, 1861–62 National Gallery NG3260 © 2017. Copyright The National Gallery, London/Scala, Florence
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Costume design for The Executioner Salvador Dalí (1904-89) Ink on paper, 1949 Royal Opera House, London © Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS 2017
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Milano”, from the series “Fratelli d’Italia” (2005-2016) © Matthias Schaller
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The Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer's Opera ‘Robert Le Diable’ Edgar Degas (1834-1917) Oil on canvas, 1876 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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