Opera – the total art form

Produced as part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

Ran from 30 September 2017 to 25 February 2018

More about this Exhibition

Often described as a 'total art form', opera is the culmination of a huge collaborative effort between artists, designers and performers. This film series, featuring Danielle de Niese, Terry Gilliam, Es Devlin, Bob Crowley, Leo Warner and Antonio Pappano, offers an insight in to how the diverse skills and expertise of these individuals mesh together to create each production.

Making opera: the soprano Danielle de Niese

Danielle de Niese is a soprano singer who performs around the world. She describes how each performance is a "whole body experience" and that she "becomes one and the same" with the characters that she plays in each opera, striving to tell the story as though it had never happened before. Recalling her 2005 debut at Glynebourne Festival in a production of Giulio Cesare, de Niese recalls the perfect allignment of artists, designers and performers to create an iconic, career-defining moment.

Making opera: the director, Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam's approach to directing opera is typically unconventional. He dislikes 'traditional' opera because he has "seen too many operas where people stand and sing". His focus is on the acting skills of his cast and insists that "humour has got to be a part of everything we do". His interest and involvement in staging and design have led to critically acclaimed, visually rich, 'pythonesque', productions of Faust and Cellini.

Making opera: the designer, Es Devlin

By creating a state of 'newness' through unfamiliar moving sculpture and light, designer, Es Devlin, encourages the audience to "pay attention" and "attend to the music". Her designs for opera always start with an intense period of studying the music and understanding how the words work with it. Devlin then breaks the opera down into sections on timelines that she can begin to paint and sketch.

Making opera: the theatre & costume designer, Bob Crowley

Bob Crowley is a theatre designer specialising in set and costume design. For Crowley, opera is about "telling a story through image and music – you want to find the most expressive way of doing that". His costumes focus on informing the audience about location and society, as well as being able to "express the exquisitely beautiful music".

Making opera: the creative director, Leo Warner, 59 Productions

Leo Warner is the creative director and founder of 59 Productions, a company responsible for projects ranging from the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games to the V&A's David Bowie is exhibition. He defines their work as "trying to blur the boundaries between what's solid and tangible and physical with what's amorphous and ephemeral and transient". The huge design challenge of live projection and light is that it needs to respond to each production as it happens, something that can change with each performance.

Making opera: the conductor, Antonio Pappano

Antonio Pappano sees himself as a coach, or teacher, in his role as a conductor. He had no ambition to become a conductor but his talent was spotted by singers who recognised that he played the piano like an orchestra. His ability to create "musical pictures" helps to tell the story and to guide singers and the orchestra in their interactions. Pappano's conducting is a performance in itself, requiring stamina and energy, in order to inspire performers and audience alike.