Lucy Worsley's Nights at the Opera

BBC 2

opera 2

For centuries in western culture, opera has been the greatest show on earth. Historian Lucy Worsley explores how history and opera go hand in hand. She visits the great European cities where some of the most famous operas were written, tells the stories of the colourful characters who composed them and shows how they reflected the turbulent times they were composed in and the lives, hopes and fears of the people who lived in them.

Whilst Lucy visits the cities and European opera houses, Antonio Pappano, music director of London’s Royal Opera, helps us understand some of those operas’ greatest musical moments.

In the first episode, Lucy investigates four cities and four operas embedded in the cauldron of European politics between the 17th and 19th centuries. She visits Venice, where Claudio Monteverdi invented modern opera with The Coronation of Poppea, the first work which featured real historical characters that the audience could identify with. It is also one of the steamiest and sexiest operas ever written.

Then to Vienna, where Mozart’s subversive masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro held a mirror up to a society where the Enlightenment was beginning to break down the old feudal order, and Beethoven wrote Fidelio, an opera that embraced the French Revolutionary radical ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood. Finally, Lucy travels to Milan, where Verdi’s Slaves’ Chorus in his opera Nabucco captured the hopes and dreams of the Italian people as they moved towards independence and a united nation.