Opera: Passion, Power and Politics


The opening exhibition at the Sainsbury Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum’s stunning new space in its Exhibition Road Quarter, is on the history of opera.

A collaboration between the museum and the Royal Opera House, the exhibition covers nearly 400 years of operatic history, exploring how the drama, music, costumes and stage design have changed since the 17th century, when opera first developed. Taking seven ground-breaking opera premieres in seven cities, the show looks at the story of opera from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea in Venice, 1642, to Verdi’s Nabucco in Milan, 1842, and the first performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in St Petersburg in 1934; each of these opening nights had an impact on the way opera is performed today.

The exhibition promises to bring the magic and spectacle of opera to life with an immersive audiovisual experience and recordings of famous performances played through headphones as visitors move through the exhibits, including the Royal Opera Chorus’s new recording of Va Pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi’s Nabucco, played as a 360-degree sound installation.

Kate Bailey, the V&A curator of the exhibition, promises an exciting spectacle of “…visual arts, fashion, costumes, stage designs, and an incredible sound experience. We are really pushing the technology for how sound is presented in an exhibition context.”

More than 300 associated objects are going on display, from a piano played by Mozart in Prague to Salvador Dali’s costume design for Peter Brooks’s 1949 production of Salome and material from the premiere of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, on display for the first time ever outside Russia.

An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.

Maria Callas


The Victoria & Albert Museum's permanent collection is vast; it spans over 2,000 years of art history and covers fashion, jewellery, art, furniture, ceramics and metalwork. Simultaneously the museum presents a series of smaller, temporary exhibitions — currently a Balenciaga retrospective (until February 2018) — and also holds many events and talks on fashion and decorative arts.

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Image: Eva Gonzalès (1849–83), oil on canvas, c 1874 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, gift of Jean Guérard, 1927 © Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France - Bridgeman Images


30 September 2017 - 25 February 2018


V&A Museum
Cromwell Road
South Kensington
London SW7 2RL

Opening hours

Open daily from 10am to 5.45pm, and until 10pm on Fridays. The exhibition closes 15 minutes prior to museum closing time.

Museum closed December 24, 25 & 26.

The V&A recommends booking tickets in advance for this exhibition.