Opera To Stir Your Soul At The V&A In This Musical Blockbuster

Opera: Passion, Power & Politics, V&A ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 51 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

Opera To Stir Your Soul At The V&A In This Musical Blockbuster Opera: Passion, Power & Politics, V&A 4
One of the spectacular set pieces in the exhibition. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

We sit on a bench as Verdi's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves rises in volume through our ears. We close our eyes and imagine sitting in an opera house as the music resonates through our bones and stirs our soul. We could sit listening to it for hours.

We're at the V&A's new blockbuster on the theme of opera filled with an immersive and spectacular soundtrack — from the delights of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro to the thunderous sound of Wagner. This exhibition takes us on a tour of Europe to tell the tale of the history of opera; from its origins in Venice via London and Stalin's Russia right through to contemporary performances.

Contemporary performances add an extra lens to these classic operas. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The tale is told through fantastic costumes, beautiful paintings, delicate instruments and elaborate stage sets. It's fantastic to listen to Handel's chorus of the mermaids as a stage set springs to life and we see a ship and a mermaid cross the set piece in front of us.

What has become the V&A's signature is their use of locational audio, where you don a headset at the start and the audio changes upon wandering through the exhibition. It works wonders yet again and this time the lighting is in on the trick as it dims as a performance begins — the sound of backstage shuffling before a musical piece begins is a lovely touch.

A St Petersburg performance features that was eventually banned under political censorship. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When you have a soundtrack including Mozart, Handel, Wagner and Verdi you can't really go wrong. Not all visitors will be knowledgeable on opera, but most will recognise these familiar tracks and it has the capacity to move even people new to the genre.

Opera began as a way for aristocrats to flaunt their wealth and unfortunately over 500 years later it's still seen largely as a preserve of the elite. The true test of this exhibition is whether it will bring a new audience to opera — it passes easily, we've never been to the opera and now we're dying to.

Spectacular costumes abound too. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The show is almost perfect, but what lets it down is the busy curation of the space: any blank space on the wall has been seen as a challenge that needed filling with text. It provides far too much information and distracts us from what we really want to do, which is to be swept away by the music while looking at beautiful objects. Visitors should take their time to close their eyes and simply enjoy the sensational soundtrack.

There are some truly beautiful instruments on display as well. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This pitfall is a real shame as without it, this would be a strong contender for the exhibition of the year so far. Despite the quibble, the show's still a musical masterpiece and we're so captivated that we wrote this review listening to Verdi.

Opera: Passion, Power & Politics is on at V&A from 30 September to 25 February. Tickets are £19 for adults.

Last Updated 28 September 2017