In a lavish exhibition preview event, Opera: Passion, Power and Politics opened its doors to special guests at the Victoria and Albert Museum last Wednesday evening. Bowers & Wilkins is the official sound partner, and has provided over 500 headphones for the duration of the exhibition, allowing guests to be immersed in opera music of the past and present.
Classical music runs deep in the blood of Bowers & Wilkins. The company founder, John Bowers, was an avid classical music lover, with an unwavering desire to reproduce live concerts with immaculate clarity through a simple loudspeaker configuration. Over 50 years later, it is perhaps undeniable that Bowers & Wilkins was destined to partner with the V&A for a stunning exhibition celebrating the passion, power and politics of opera: one of the world’s most cherished art forms.
The evening began in the opulence of the entrance hall, where guests gathered for speeches from Nicholas Coleridge CBE, Chairman of the V&A Board of Trustees and Jazz Singh, Head of Communications at Societe Generale, the major sponsors of the exhibition. The speeches were followed by a stunning surprise performance from American tenor and opera superstar, Michael Fabiano, setting the scene for the main event.
Taking place in the newly opened Sainsbury Gallery – one of the largest exhibition spaces in Europe – Opera: Passion, Power & Politics guides audience members through nearly 400 years of the genre, by focusing on seven operatic premieres in seven cities. Upon arrival, exhibition-goers received a pair of Bowers & Wilkins P5 S2 headphones, which are used throughout the exhibition. And starting in Renaissance Italy, they truly bring the exhibition to life.
The immersive, operatic soundtrack seamlessly transitioned between different eras in the exhibition, with every nuance brought out by the P5s, painting a vivid sonic picture to complement the digital media and over 300 extraordinary objects on show – some of which were eye-watering in their display and stature.
Objects on display include Salvador Dali’s costume design for Peter Brook’s 1949 production of Salome;the original score of Verdi’s Nabucco from the Archivio Storico Ricordi in Milan; and one of two surviving scores from the first public opera (L’incoronazione di Poppea). Additional soundscapes brought audience members straight to the heart of European cities including Paris, Milan and Leningrad.
Aside from the immersive and engaging history lessons, there is also a great deal of innovation on show. The exhibition includes a powerful new recording of the the Royal Opera Chorus singing ‘Va pensiero’ (the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, experienced in a 360-degree sound installation.
Opera: Passion, Power & Politics runs at the Victoria and Albert Museum until February 2018. The museum was recently included in Trip Advisor’s list of the top 10 museums in the world. Over 200,000 visitors are expected to attend the exhibition, which has already received 5 star reviews from The Guardian and The Evening Standard.