The Victoria and Albert Museum’s extensive and engrossing exhibition looks at the way in which opera has entered all areas of society over nearly 400 years.
“People’s reaction to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic. They either love it or hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” Excuse the quote from Pretty Woman in the scene in which Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) takes Vivianne (Julia Roberts) to the opera, but it is a quote that was running through my head as I wondered around this rich and detailed exhibition at the V&A.
It is a very apt quote in relation to this exhibition too, in which the further you wonder around exploring the subject, you gain a deeper fascination, appreciation and respect for opera and the way it continues to adapt to the changing times.
As you wonder around from section to section (city to city), with extracts of different operas playing in your ears, there is a real sense of the grandeur and the beauty of the music as well as the extensive work that is put into creating an opera for the stage.
But interwoven with this is the history of cities such as Vienna, Venice, Paris and Milan and the way in which opera reflected the changes in society over the years. Each city featured in the exhibition focuses on a specific composer and opera – adding extra depth and interest.
This is a huge exhibition in which visitors are almost overwhelmed by the scale of it all with its lavish and extravagant number of objects on display. It is big, bold and dramatic – that does full justice to the topic and its history.
By playing music in the visitor’s ears, it is possible to completely submerge yourself into the full experience of opera and get whisked away to many of the places in which its influence and impact can be felt. Video screens get you comparing the ways in which operas have been interpreted differently by different directors, while costumes give visitors an insight into society at the time.
There is so much to see no matter where you look, with information and quotes scribbled on the walls that there is almost an overload of information – which unless you have a long love affair with opera can become slightly intimidating for those with lesser knowledge.
This is a wonderfully evocative exhibition that takes you right to the very heart of the history of opera and filled with rich details that will delight opera fans or those fascinated by music history. A must-see.