Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

Things to do, Exhibitions
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Opera’s more than voluptuous women belting out high notes – it’s also a masterclass in Europe’s social, political and cultural history. The V&A explores these aspects of opera – from its origins in Italy to its wildfire-like spread in Europe – through the lens of seven operatic debuts in seven different European cities spanning a period of 400 years. It’s time travel, opera-style.

Each premiere is set in a distinct section of the new Sainsbury gallery, which follows a circular route designed to make you feel as if you’re backstage. The exhibition begins in Venice in 1642, with the first opera ever publicly performed – Monteverdi’s ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’. It’s a scandalous libretto and the embodiment of a very liberal yet vanity-obsessed society. There are elaborate red velvet courtesan outfits on display along with Renaissance-style paintings and some very unusual string instruments.

From Venice, the exhibit moves to London in 1711 where Handel’s ‘Rinaldo’ caused a stir for being performed in Italian, and it’s here that opera is showcased as the place where art, music, design and theatre collide – in a maelstrom of passion, dazzling costumes and spine-tingling castratos.

The piano that Mozart performed ‘Le nozze di Figaro’ on in 1787 is on display in the Vienna section. It’s a real highlight, together with his account of opera’s prevalence in Viennese society and the high fashion worn by guests at the concert. The premiere of Strauss’s politically and sexually charged opera ‘Salome’ in 1905 is the featured debut from Dresden. It’s shown alongside artworks from the Die Brücke movement to reflect new liberal cultural views and the increasing popularity of Expressionism.

There are set designs, sketches, costumes and sculptures in this exhibition and there’s a lot of information to process through the intermittent falsettos in your headphones. But overall, it achieves its goal of contextualising opera.  The only remaining question is which (if any) opera debut will be able to reflect Europe in the twenty-first century. 

By: Fuchsia Millevoi



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An absolute fabulous masterpiece of an exhibition at the V&A Museum.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics was a beautiful, grand, opulent spectacle of intricate, immaculate displays of artistry.

An exhibition that represents the world of opera and the art of passion and power that goes into the historical theatrics of opera.

It was great to move from city to city displaying the best opera from around the world.

It’s an astonishing, inspiring world entering this exhibition.

Pure luxury and pure opulence is displayed in every corner.

The costumes, the intricate artefacts and the whole display of this powerful exhibition is enchanting to look at.

It was a fantastic experience to listen to opera music while enjoying the operatic collections.

They also did the same with the Revolution exhibition a while back, which was fantastic.

I got an even bigger taste of this fascinating world listening to the best opera music.

I found the Venetian Courtesan display a magnificent one and was probably one of the pieces that stood out for me the most.

The costume is inspired by a Venetian courtesan. The skirt itself could be opened or closed to reveal the high platform shoes.

This would of been worn by fashionable courtesans and aristocratic women.

The detail is immaculate, it’s truly majestic and impressive.

Have a look at the photographs attached.

The journey through this powerful, historical exhibition of ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’ was an incredible, operatic discovery.

There is so much that you can find on the way.

The elaborate artefacts and the most precious costumes were displayed within the exhibition.

The wooden contraption of a theatrical production at sea was very well crafted.

A memorable moment indeed.

Every small detail is captured perfectly.

The costumes are truly masterpieces of art. I was mind blown by the attention to detail.

The presentation, the silhouettes and the construction of the clothes are something extremely special.

I was mind blown by the embroidered, white gown. A mesmerising moment of pure beauty and splendour.

The ball gown, the top hats, the decorative pieces, and the display was all so immaculately presented.

It’s like entering an era of true opera and passion.

There was so much to enjoy and I’m glad that I unravelled much inspiration in this operatic experience at the V&A Museum.

The costumes were the epitome of this exhibition for sure.

I remember spending a while just observing the each and every peculiar detail.

Just splendid.


Love MD.


As an opera-lover who's seen dozens of performances, I was impressed to find out how much I didn't know about the history and development of this genre. This exhibition, curated by Kate Bailey, filled these gaps with an enjoyable narrative, able to satisfy the modern inclination towards visual contents, as much as an encyclopaedic need for dates and names. Following an itinerary across time and space – suitably accompanied by some extraordinarily executed musical pieces – I wondered between the folds of European high society, of which opera has always been a reflection and a means of defiance. Musical instruments, theatrical mechanisms, fine paintings and luxury furnishings are on display together with props and costumes belonging to seven memorable productions. Each of these operas is presented within its socio-political framework, according to the city where it was first performed. Whether you're an opera aficionado or a complete beginner, Opera: Passion, Power and Politics represents an approachable and enlightening experience.

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