A difficult task – how do you tell the story of four centuries of opera in what might seem a huge exhibition space, but when you think of the many aspects of the story, is dauntingly small for such a large subject. Cleverly, the collaborative exhibition between the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Opera House tells the story of opera through its links to power, politics and passion from its birth in 17th century Venice, moving to London, Vienna, Dresden, Paris, Milan and finally Leningrad, where opera, along with other arts, was heavily censored for state propaganda, with links to seven key operas of the time.
Wide-ranging, including theatre, costume and set design, art and design from the different periods, supplemented by video and an operatic audio guide, the exhibition is down the theatrical inter-twining staircase of the new extension, in the new Sainsbury Gallery, where the designers have sensibly left the central space clear for a series of fast-moving videos to capture many aspects that the main exhibition was unable to show including contemporary operatic performances and opera houses around the world.
An excellent first exhibition and the layout suggests a key to future use of this space – keep the exhibition displays tightly focussed and allow the scale of the gallery space to sing through.
And, well done, for allowing photography of the majority of the exhibition. Hopefully others will follow this lead.