The new Sainsbury Gallery opened the ball of 400 years of opera with “Opera: Passion, Power and Politics”, seen through the prism of its political, social and economic themes. Co-organised with the Royal Opera House in London, the organisers have analysed 7 operas in relation to the cities in which they were first performed and their creative context. The city of the Doges acts as a prelude with Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea (1642), followed by London with Handel’s Rinaldo (1711), Vienna with Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (1786), Milan with Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi (1842), Paris with Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner (1861), Dresden with Salomé by Richard Strauss (1905), and Leningrad with Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934).
No fewer than 300 illustrative works have been included, including a sketch by Salvador Dalí for Peter Brook’s production of Salomé in 1949, the painting Music in the Tuileries by Édouard Manet, scores dating from the birth of opera, performance accessories and much more.
Wearing headphones, visitors are invited to wander through the exhibition in the same state of rapture that they would experience in an opera house. A 360° sound installation for Verdi’s Nabucco (performed by the Royal Opera Chorus) crowns the show. Both immersive and sensorial, the exhibition offers a reflection of what a total work of art in the 20th century might have been like. As its precursor, Wagner dreamed of a “work of art of the future”.
The notion of the symbiosis of the arts is currently very fashionable, as is evinced by the wave of exhibitions combining different media. For example, the influence exerted by the theatre on the plastic arts in the 20th century was the subject of an exhibition at the Macma in Barcelona (“Un teatre sense teatre”, curated by Yann Chateigné and Bernard Blistène). Elsewhere, the Centre Pompidou (directed by Blistène) has on many occasions emphasised multidisciplinarity (art and dance, the visual arts and music, sound and light, etc.).
Currently, the Louvre is also highlighting the link between theatre and power, while the Philharmonie and the Seine Musicale are orchestrating retrospectives dedicated to two divas of the musical world, Barbara and Maria by Callas respectively.
With “Opera: Passion, Power and Politics”, the Victoria & Albert Museum highlights the characteristics of the absolute art of opera – catharsis, hubris, sublimeness and fieriness. The focus on these traits allows visitors to investigate a total work of art that solicits the senses and merges life and art.