Arnold Schönberg’s manuscripts for “Moses und Aron” and also his studies and figures for stage works are featuring in the exhibition “Opera as the World. The quest for a total work of art” at the Centre Pompidou-Metz.

“The exhibition ‘Opéra Monde. La quête d’un art total’ (June 22, 2019 – January 27, 2020) addresses how visual arts and the genre of lyrical opera have interacted in the 20th and 21st centuries. It goes beyond displaying opera stage sets designed by artists, preferring to focus on the question of the extent – in reference or even in contrast to the Wagnerian term ‘total work of art’ – to which visual arts and opera have benefitted from or even influenced each other. In the midst of this mutual give and take, opera proves suitable terrain and a catalyst for testing new esthetic and political forms.

Opera as the subject of an exhibition makes sense in several respects. Any fear that the final curtain would soon fall dissipated long ago. Despite Pierre Boulez’ famous demand in 1967 – ‘blow up the opera houses’ – seemingly acting like a curse on the genre in the 1970s, today it can said that opera throughout the 20th century and particularly in recent decades produced many significant and notable creations. The culture of the spectacle prophesied at the time occupied many other artistic areas. As a place where spectacular things happen, the opera has since enabled theatricality, which is increasingly conquering the area of contemporary art after years that were predominantly conceptual, to be viewed from a wholly new perspective.

The exhibition shows models, costumes and stage elements, as well as impressive installations and new creations. Accompanied by pictures and sounds, a tour reveals that opera is, so to speak, a workshop for the mutual dreams of artists and a symbol of freedom. Beginning with the experimental stage productions of the first avant-garde works such as Arnold Schönberg’s ‘Die glückliche Hand’ (1910–1913), including compositions such as ‘Saint François d’Assise’ by Olivier Messiaen, who has long become a regular addition to schedules at the major opera houses, through experimental, and nonetheless iconic operas such as ‘Einstein on the beach’ by Philip Glass and Bob Wilson, “Opera as the World” takes a fresh approach to examining interdisciplinary art. The exhibition is structured into different sections with themes that range from the stage as a painting in motion, through more radical political and occasionally utopian forms and places in operas, and naturally including fairy-tales and legends. The focus is on a selection of compositions that serve as an example of the fruitful relationships between stage and art. The exhibition also includes classics such as the ‘Magic Flute’ and ‘Norma’, aiming to show how courageous programming can offer room for transgressions and modifications, yet still secure the continuation of the genre.”

Curator: Stéphane Ghislain Roussel

Image: Arnold Schönberg, “The Lucky Hand,” op. 18 (scene 2), 1910 © Belmont Music Publishers, Pacific Palisades / Bildrecht, Wien, 2019