Rooms 103 – 106b

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Ranging from costumes and accessories to set designs, engravings, photographs and sheet music, objects from our collections come together to tell the fascinating 400-year history of opera – documenting the evolution of the 'play that is sung', from its 17th century origins, through to experimental contemporary productions.

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These objects explore the staging of opera in its many forms – tragic, comic, serious and popular – as well as the lives of its most influential performers. Highlights include set designs by Derek Jarman, costumes by David Hockney, music scores by George Frederick Handel, and cartoons by William Hogarth.

Collection Highlights

Poster advertising the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Missouri, unknown, 1978, United States
set design
Set design for John Taverner’s opera Thérèse, designed by Alan Barlow, 1979, Britain
Libretto for Radamisto by George Frideric Handel and Nicola Francesco Haym, printed by Thomas Wood, 1720, England
theatre costume
Costume for Boris Godunov worn by Feodor Chaliapin, designed by Alexander Golovin, about 1910, Russia
theatre costume
Costume for the Fairy Queen in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera Iolanthe, D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, designed by Bruno Santini, made by David Garrett, 1977, Britain
opera glasses
Opera glasses, unknown, 19th century, Europe
Print of D. Portland and Mrs Billington entitled The Bulstrode Siren, engraved by James Gillray, published by H. Humphrey, 1803, England
costume design
Costume design for Lisa in the party scene in Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, designed by Oliver Messel, 1950, England
Portrait of Adelina Patti as Esmeralda in Campana's opera Esmeralda, unknown, 19th century, Britain
Engraving of a court ballet in Vlasislav Hall, Prague Castle, unknown, 1617, Czech Republic
Rich's Glory or his Triumphant Entry into Covent-Garden, engraved by William Hogarth, printed by Robert Wilkinson, 1811, Britain
theatre costume
Costume for the Bonze in Stravinsky's opera The Nightingale, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, designed by David Hockney, 1983, Britain
Watercolour showing Covent Garden Opera House, The Colonnade, made by John Walter Bayes, about 1940, England
Ceramic figure of Jenny Lind as Alice in Meyerbeer’s opera Robert le Diable, unknown, 1847, England
Relief of George Frideric Handel, made by Louis-François Roubiliac, 1750 – 60, England
Souvenir Japanese fan commemorating The Mikado's 1000th performance at the Savoy Theatre, unknown, 1896, Japan
music sheet
Sheet of printed music for The Ladies Lamentation for the Loss of Sensesino, engraved by George Bickham Jnr, 1737 – 38, England
Lithograph showing the building of Her Majesty’s Theatre, by Sir William Rothenstein, about 1897, England
Giuseppe Verdi, sculpture, by Raffaello Romanello, 1890, Europe