The stars of melodrama
Venice, the cradle of melodrama, is hosting an exhibition dedicated to the wonderful musical art of opera. The exhibition presents the history of opera through four centuries, from its origins in Italy, particularly Venice, to the present day, becoming itself a stage for artworks, costumes, librettos, sets, musical instruments and scores, and a wealth of objects from around the world, that together create a theatrical and experiential scenario for the public.
The exhibition traverses the history of memorable premières, revisiting the cultural context in which the performers lived, worked, created and loved. Through an immersive experience in the process of creating an opera: from lyrics to singing, and from music to theatre, visitors will leave with a clearer understanding of the role of opera in the contemporary world. The most important interpretations of lyrical works are transmitted through a system of earphones, with the music changing dynamically for each section of the exhibition, creating an evocative and totally enveloping sound system.
The exhibition is divided into sections representing different cities, each associated with one or more musicians and compositions.
It opens in the Venice section, where the exhibits, some never shown before, tell the story of the composers and librettists who invented melodrama here in Venice and its theatres, particularly at La Fenice. From Claudio Monteverdi in the 1640s, to Antonio Vivaldi, Gioachino Rossini, and finally Giuseppe Verdi, who composed for La Fenice a triumphal series of five lyrical dramas: Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra.
This is followed by the London section, with the works of Friedrich Händel, who settled there in the 1710s, and by the first performance of Rinaldo, inspired by Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata.
Three hundred or so extraordinary objects will be on display, together with films and audio reproductions. Unlike the exhibition’s previous manifestations, in Venice a substantial number of important loans develop themes specifically connected to the world of Italian music. The sections dedicated to the cities of Venice and Milan are particularly enhanced by primary sources, such as the score of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide, together with paintings and sketches that illustrate the role of Italian composers in the development and popularisation of melodrama.
Curated by Kate Bailey of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and inaugurated in London in 2017 under the title Opera. Power, Passion and Politics, the exhibition’s fourth stop here in Venice can boast an installation by world-renowned architect and scenographer Pier Luigi Pizzi.
The Vienna section centres on the figure of Mozart, whose Marriage of Figaro showed him to be well and truly a member of the cultural revolution introduced by Enlightenment thought. The exhibition’s fourth section takes us to Paris, where music, painting, dance, literature, politics, fashion and poetry came
together in the theatre. With his tendency towards total art, Richard Wagner introduced this vital concentration into opera. At the beginning of the 20th century Dresden led the new vision of art and society, staged by Richard Strauss in his Salome, wild and crazy like Klimt’s Judith, also on show in the exhibition.
In Russia during the Soviet regime art was obliged to embody the values of Marxism, and so in the penultimate section dedicated to Leningrad, Shostakovich interprets Soviet dramaturgy by composing Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, without forgetting the principles of love and death that distinguish the human story in any age.
Exhibition organised by Victoria and Albert Museum, London
In collaboration with Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia
Curated by Kate Bailey
Exhibition design Pier Luigi Pizzi
Scientific direction of the Italian venue Gabriella Belli
Sound Experience by Sennheiser