Opera at the V&A: Passion, Power and Politics

The V&A of South Kensington is a hub of creativity and culture. In collaboration with the Royal Opera House, ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’ curates the dramatic story of a 16th century art form over the past 400 years.

The opera – a piece of drama expressed through music, began as a private display of entertainment, performed only to the Italian elite. Wealthy and influential families would stage intimate shows as a symbol of power and status. Performances would occasionally be opened up to the public during the vibrant carnival season.

The exhibition, held in the V&A’s new Sainsbury gallery starts off quiet and dimly lit. First steps into the gallery are then met by a soft crescendo of sound. Claudio Monteverdi’s ‘Pur ti miro’ which means, ‘I adore you’ is uplifting and sweet, and comes from the final coronation scene of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. Staged as the first public opera, Poppea was a tale of murderous ambition. It was the first of its kind to recall a historical event rather than a religious or mythical subject.

The opera developed into an expression of creativity and ideas to challenge and provoke society. Salome, composed by Richard Strauss is remembered today for altering perceptions of women at the time. The story of a dominant female protagonist who struggled to control her emotions caught the eye of 19th century Europe. 

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