RSN ExhibitionS 2007-8



A joint exhibition between the Royal School of Needlework and the Royal Opera House.
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden - 10th March to 4th August 2008.

A new exhibition celebrating 150 years of the current theatre on the Royal Opera House site is to go on display from Monday 10 March. The current theatre, the third on this site, opened on 15 May 1858 and has seen many legendary performances. 

This exhibition focuses on key events and historical periods of the theatre’s history represented through costume and photography. The exhibition is in association with the Royal School of Needlework who are lending examples of historical textiles from their Collection, including items associated with the Royal Family. A specially commissioned film by Lynne Wake will also accompany the exhibition.

The exhibition is divided up into significant periods of the Royal Opera House’s history, reflecting some of the great singers and dancers who have performed here. The first years are represented by material associated with the Victorian soprano Adelina Patti, reputed to be Queen Victoria’s and Giuseppe Verdi’s favourite singer.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, ballet was largely represented by dance scenes in operas.  This changed dramatically in the early twentieth century when Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes came to the Royal Opera House as part of the Coronation Season to mark the accession of King George V and Queen Mary. The company was to enjoy great success led by Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky, Adolf Bohm and Anna Pavlova.  The Ballets Russes returned for further seasons at the Royal Opera House until Diaghilev’s death in 1929, and the exhibition includes photographs and other items from these early seasons.
The 1920s and 1930s are represented by costumes worn by Eva Turner, the first great British soprano of the twentieth century, and Rosa Ponselle, the iconic American soprano.   Images of the audiences of the period can be seen alongside the costume worn by Turner in Tosca, and Ponselle’s exotic gold lame dress worn as Fédra, both costumes donated by the singers themselves to Royal Opera House Collections.

On the anniversary of the theatre’s centenary day on 15 May 1958, The Royal Opera produced what was to become an iconic production of Verdi’s Don Carlo, produced and designed by Luchino Visconti.  The costume worn by Boris Christoff as King Philip II will be on display.   A Royal Gala followed in June attended by Her Majesty The Queen.  The Gala included a performance of Frederick Ashton’s Birthday Offering by The Royal Ballet.  The costume worn by Margot Fonteyn for the occasion will be on display alongside a sample embroidered in gold threads of Her Majesty The Queen’s Coronation Robe from the Royal School of Needlework.  It took 16 workers just under 3,500 hours over a three month period to complete the train with a design of olive branches, wheat ears and acorns to symbolise a peaceful, fruitful and long reign.

The Royal Opera House red and gold stage curtains have featured the embroidered coat of arms and monogram of the reigning monarch since 1911.  The current curtains were embroidered for the reopening in 1999 by the Royal School of Needlework. Photographs of the work in progress as well as the Royal insignia from the previous stage curtains, made on the accession of Her Majesty The Queen in 1952, will be on display.

Royal Opera House Collections holds material which reflects the changes in the theatre building both in the public areas and backstage and a selection of this material including photographs and architectural salvage will also be displayed. It will include many backstage images showing how the theatre worked.  Until 1997 the stage ran on machinery which had not been significantly modified since 1901.

Royal Opera House Collections have also commissioned a film from independent film maker Lynne Wake to mark the anniversary.  The film will run for one hour and there will be three recurring themes: the building itself, its financing and its performers. From Victorian master builders, the Lucas Brothers, to socialite-maestro Sir Thomas Beecham, to the great economist JM Keynes, the story charts the enormous difficulties of funding this cultural landmark through turbulent political times to the present day. The film segments can be viewed as part of the exhibition.

This free exhibition is open during normal daytime opening Monday to Saturday 10.00am – 3.30pm. Please ring to check opening times before visiting.

We are very sorry to announce that this exhibition has been postphoned until further notice due to the cutbacks made by Waltham Forest Council that will affect the staffing and opening hours of the William Morris Gallery, the designer's family home in Walthamstow from 1848 to 1856. Visit www.keepourmuseumsopen.org.uk to learn more about the proposals.



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