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30 Sept 2017 

The V&A distinguishes itself with yet another fantastic exhibition, Jane Wallace reviews.

SalomeToday marks the preview of Opera:Passion Power and Politics, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s autumn exhibition in collaboration with the Royal Opera House. Probably the coolest museum in the world, the V&A is placing itself at the cutting edge of art, fashion, history and more recently music. Under the direction of Nicholas Coleridge, the Chair of Trustees, Conde Nast Chairman and ancestor of the poet, the V&A is a veritable goldmine.

It was in 2013 that the now famous David Bowie Is exhibition blossomed, decorating the hallowed walls with everything David Bowie. From stage costumes to blotchy penned lyrics,to “Life on Mars” Major Tom to much more, all charting the seamless shift of personas from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke et al. To be there was to know this chameleon-like pop star so much more intimately. Mothers from the provinces brought their teenage sons to peer into the memorabilia. 

Savage Beauty, Europe’s first major retrospective of Alexander Macqueen’s exquisite couture, followed hot on Bowie’s heels in March 2015 breaking all previous records for ticket sales. In all, 493,043 people saw the show and over the last two weekends of its run the V&A remained open all night.  

In 2016, came You Say You want a Revolution, Records and Rebels 1966-1970 charting the rise of popular music and its culture from the Sixties, through the Seventies with its San Francisco Flower Power influences to the Vietnam War in visuals. Hendrix, Joplin and Woodstock providing the soundtrack through the headphones changing tracks as you move around the show.

The Pink Floyd Exhibition, Their Mortal Remains, arrived in spring and has twice been extended by public demand. Once again the V&A’s twist is in the audiovisuals, the album covers, the music videos, the live concert performances flash and zoom around the rooms.  Would-be psychedelic rock millennials can dream to the original studio sound recording of Dark Side of the Moon whist watching a rainbow pass through a triangular prism in a mesmeric laser light show.

Opera takes place in the brand new Sainsbury Gallery, it’s courtyard is made from porcelain tiles. A delicate start to this exhibition charting the rise of opera in Venice with Monteverdi, featuring charming artefacts from the period. Galleons roll on the waves of the reproduced 18th century stage for Handel’s Rinaldo, which charms and beguiles. Opera races on to Vienna, Milan, Paris, Dresden and finally Russia, ending in a shocking film projection of Oscar Wilde’s Salome in David McVicar’s production of the Richard Strauss opera with the heroine covered in blood.

The V&A stamp is all over this show including spectacular paintings by Degas and Manet. Be prepared to experience all the highs and lows of the genre of opera in this lavish production.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at the V&A, in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, sponsored by Societe Generale, from 30 Sept 2017 – 25 Feb 2018, vam.ac.uk/opera 

Edited by Sam Burcher (c) 2017