Various colleagues told me I did not need to see Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at the Victoria & Albert Museum because it contained nothing an experienced observer of the art form did not already know.
They were wrong.
There is a segment on Shostakovich composing Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, in which unseen objects from the 1934 Leningrad production – courtesy of the Mikhailovsky Theatre and the composer’s widow – are presented in the context of Stalin’s subsequent attack on the work. Very little of this has been shown before outside Russia
And, while video footage of Shostakovich in the 1930s is not unfamiliar, to have it running behind a replica of his work room and his actual composing desk stirs the emotions in a very immediate way.
A recording of the Royal Opera chorus rehearsing Va pensiero, with each chorister individually miked, is another exhibit of extraordinary immediacy. And seven different directors’ videos of the ballet scene from Tannhäuser is a hypnotic art object in its own right.
There will be a weekend of free performances at the V&A, November 10-12.