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

Opera Theatre of St. Louis, poster, 1978, Missouri, US
set design
Thérèse, set design, designed by Alan Barlow, 1979, UK
Serious Operas Vol. VIII, libretto, by George Frideric Handel and Nicola Francesco Haym, printed by Thomas Wood, 1720, London, England
theatre costume
Theatre costume, designed by Alexander Golovin, about 1910, Russia
theatre costume
Theatre costume, designed by Bruno Santini, made by David Garrett, 1977, UK
opera glasses
Opera glasses, 19th century, Europe
H Beard Print Collection, engraved by James Gillray, published by H. Humphrey, 1803, London, England
costume design
Costume design, designed by Oliver Messel, 1950, London, England
Guy Little Theatrical Photograph, photograph, 19th century, Britain
Engraving of a court ballet in Vlasislav Hall, Prague Castle, by Mat'a, 1617, Britain
Rich's Glory or his Triumphant Entry into Covent-Garden, engraved by William Hogarth, printed by Robert Wilkinson, 1811, Britain
theatre costume
The Nightingale, theatre costume, designed by David Hockney, 1983, UK
Covent Garden Opera House; The Colonnade, watercolour, by John Walter Bayes, about 1940, London, England
Jenny Lind as Alice in Meyerbeer's Opera, figure, 1847, Staffordshire, England
Relief of George Frideric Handel, made by Louis-François Roubiliac, 1750 – 60, London, England
Souvenir Japanese fan commemorating The Mikado's 1000th performance at the Savoy Theatre, 1896, Japan
music sheet
Music sheet, engraved by George Bickham Jnr., 1737 – 38, London, England
Lithograph showing the building of Her Majesty’s Theatre, by Sir William Rothenstein, about 1897, London, England
Giuseppe Verdi, sculpture, sculpted by Raffaello Romanello, about 1890, Europe