18 December 2017

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at V&A

As a lover of both opera and V&A it was only a matter of time before I went to see the exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at V&A, though I did have to take a day's holiday to find that time.

Going on a work day meant that it was not sold out and I could get tickets on arrival. It also helped that it was towards the end of its long run. I treated myself to a decent lie-in first and after a leisurely breakfast and a decent journey in I arrived there just after 11:30am.

The exhibition was in the new Sainsbury Gallery and it was nice to have an excuse to see it.

The technology was the same as for Pink Floyd earlier in the year, headsets and a devise that played music (it was almost all music) according to where you were in the various rooms.

There were two helpful signs at the start, one said that photography was allowed and the second said that visitors should allow 70 minutes for the exhibition. One of those proved to be more true than the other.

The opera story was told as a series of dates, places and significant works connected to them. It started with Venice around 1600 and Monteverdi's Orfeo, moved on to London a century later with Handel's Rinaldo, and so on. It started off very historical with little in the way of passion, power or politics except for opera always being a rich person's activity and so it was entwined with them through its patrons.

That started to change with Marriage of Figaro which let servants get the upper-hand over their masters, something shocking in a period when workers never played important roles in art much less triumphal ones.

The passion reached its zenith with the closing aria from Richard Strauss' Salomé where a blood splattered Salomé embraced the severed head of Jochanaan much to the disgust of her step-father Herod. This was top-grade Sex and Violence.

The tour ended with Stalin's Russia and Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Dmitri Shostakovich, an opera unknown to me which featured some frenetic piano playing by the composer.

The final room was a sample of opera today with excepts from several contemporary works, including a few I had seen and I few more that I would like to.

The expected 70 minutes turned out to be 100 or more and that tells you how much there was to listen to, look at, read and watch, and how engaging it all was.

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