Explore the history of opera from its origins in the 17th century, to experimental modern productions. Learn about the lives of some of opera’s most influential performers.
The 18th century saw an explosion of opera across Europe. Opera houses were built in all the major European cities and new operas were commissioned for each season. The King's theatre became the home of opera in the 18th and 19th centuries where operas were the main offering in the evening's entertainment, usually interspersed with dances and sometimes a short play or farce as an afterpiece.
A succession of great divas dominated opera from the mid 19th century and no male singer could match their popularity. Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti and Nellie Melba were all sopranos, the highest-range female voice, which had the clarity and flexibility to cope with elaborate passages of flamboyant music.
'The Great Caruso' or ‘King of Tenors' was born in Naples in 1873. He was his parents' 18th child and the first to survive infancy. Music was his escape from the wretched reality that surrounded him. He sang in Neapolitan cafes and restaurants. By 1895 he was singing leading roles at the Opera House in Naples. From there he went to the major Italian opera houses and then became an international star.
D'Oyly Carte Prompt Books
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company prompt books used in Savoy theatre productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the late 19th century. Prompt books were used by theatre stage managers to record notes about all aspects of a play to help them keep track of the play as it progressed and make sure everything was going according to plan.
Theatre & Performance
The Theatre and Performance collection was founded in the 1920s when a private collector, Gabrielle Enthoven, donated her extensive collection of theatrical designs, memorabilia, books and photographs to the Museum. Since then the collection has continued to grow and has provided a home for many other significant objects and archives. All areas of the live performing arts are represented in the collections, documenting both current practice and the history of the performing arts in the UK.