This week I was invited by the V&A to preview their fabulous new exhibition. Unfortunately I was unable to attend due to a hospital appointment, so my lovely brother Matthew went in my place. Luckily he’s an Opera enthusiast and as a curator, he knows a thing or two about what makes a good exhibition. Today on the blog, he shares his impressions of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics.

Before I start, I better be honest: I love opera. Not just a little bit – I’m a complete fan, and go whenever I can. I’m going to 23 operas this year, and that’s a quiet year for me! So I was so excited when Catherine asked if I could go and review the latest exhibition at London’s V&A Museum, Opera: Passion, Power and Politics. Could the exhibition teach something new to a super fan like me, and more importantly, would it be a good introduction to somebody who’s never seen an opera? I’d say the answers are yes, and yes.

If you’re interested in history, then this would be a great exhibition for you. It takes seven opera premiers in seven cities to show how opera is a vital part of the story of European politics and culture. It starts in Venice in 1642 with beautiful objects showing the luxury of the most sophisticated city in Europe and the site of the premier of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), an opera about desire, intrigue and political scheming. We then go on a tour across history in London, Vienna, Milan, Paris and Dresden all the way to St. Petersburg in 1934 where Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was so controversial it was banned just two years later. The exhibition really shows that opera isn’t safe or cosy, but is full of politics and history that are just as exciting today as when they were written.

However, I’ll confess, I was mainly swept away by the immersive experience the V&A has created in the exhibition. When you go in you’re given a pair of headphones which use near-field technology to play the right music wherever you are in the exhibition. So when you’re standing next to the piano Mozart played and looking at his handwritten score for a piece of music from Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) you hear the music itself being played. For an opera fan like me, this was really exciting, and it’s easy to just get lost in the beautiful music and forget you’re meant to be learning about history!

The piano played by Mozart. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

For all the fashion fans, they have some beautiful historic clothes, as well as stunning costumes from modern performances of the operas. The very rare 18th century opera costumes are covered in sparkling silver embroidery that must have looked incredible in a candle lit theatre.

18th Century opera costume from the V&A’s collection.

A tiny bodice worn by the Empress Eugénie of France shows the fashions of Paris in 1861 when Wagner’s Tannhäuser played in the home of 19th century grand opera.

Empress Eugénie’s bodice from the Bowes Museum. 

My favourite part was the reconstruction of the 18th century stage of Handel’s Rinaldo. The ropes and pulleys created the special effects of their day, with descending clouds, rolling waves, a ship and a mermaid! Watching it work is like going back in time.

The reconstruction of the 18th century theatre. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As an opera fan there were certainly lots of exhibits and ideas I thought were new and exciting. However, what if you’ve never seen an opera and are going to this exhibition to learn? Well, certainly you’ll realise that opera has the power to move and even shock you – the excerpt of Strauss’s Salome on show proves that opera certainly isn’t always beautiful and romantic. This exhibition isn’t a history of opera, and because of its approach to show seven premiers that happened at important moments in European history, many famous operas are not included. Verdi’s La Traviata is represented only by one costume, and you won’t see any of Puccini’s greatest and most popular operas, like La bohème, Madama Butterfly or my favourite, Tosca. These works define the passion and romance of opera for many people, so if this exhibition leaves you wanting to see more opera then go and check those out.

Violetta’s ballgown from the Royal Opera House’s production of La Traviata. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibition ends with an installation showing that opera has now spread out of Europe to cover the whole world. More opera is performed now then ever before, and composers continue to write new and extraordinary pieces. So if you’ve never seen an opera then you’re living at the perfect time to give it a go!

The Royal Opera House in London is showing two of the operas featured in the next few months, Salome and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. If you live in Britain then check out some of the great companies across the country, from Opera North to Welsh National Opera. English Touring Opera and the Glyndebourne tour both take amazing opera all over the country. My advice is to get online as soon as ticket booking opens to get the best value tickets, it’s the only way I can afford to see 23 operas in a year! If you can’t make it to a live show then check out screenings in your local cinema.

The reason I’m such a fan is because nothing else gives me a thrill like hearing the music and the voices of the singers, and the V&A’s show succeeds in showing the real passion of opera.

Thanks so much Matthew, for stepping in and writing such a lovely piece. I’ll be checking out the exhibition myself as soon as I can.

Matthew Storey is a curator and art historian with a specialism in historic art and decorative art. 

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics runs from now until 25th February 2018. You can find out more about the exhibition on the V&A website

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In the five and a bit years I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve sporadically done week in pictures posts. As well as being fun, I think it does me good to look back at my weeks and pick out the highlights and best bits. Being a work at home mum, most of my kid free time is spent either working or doing housework and although you won’t see that on my blog or Instagram it can all be a bit samey and boring! I do try to break my weeks up by making time for myself and for my friends and by doing nice things with the kids, so you’ll see a bit more of that in my weekly summaries, as this is definitely a place for the best bits! As I hadn’t planned this post, I haven’t taken pics for everyday but I’ll try to be a bit more organised for future weeks.

Monday:

The week started on a lovely note with a trip to Lila’s school. Her year were doing a little showcase to show the parents what they’d learnt this year. They all did so well and their singing and dancing was adorable. Lila talked about science and I was a very proud mummy.

When I got home I did a lot of cleaning and then Fay popped over and we went to the tattoo shop to get her nose pierced. She was very brave! Fay stayed at mine for a bit while I did some cleaning and made the iced tea and took the pics for my T2 post, which I posted a couple of days ago.

Tuesday:

Most of the day was spent having really good tidy and clean of the house. I also reorganised the girls wardrobes and put all the washing away. I also wrote and scheduled a couple of blog posts.

After school I picked up the girls and we headed to Hampton Court. As we have a membership, I try to go as often as possible and going for a couple of hours after school always works really well for us. We usually go for a long play in The Magic Garden, but we just missed entry this time as they had a private function. So we decided to wander round the gardens, which were looking absolutely stunning.

Wednesday:

Fay and I try to have bestie blog days as often as possible. These involve lots of inappropriate chat, pretty places, nice food and a lot of photographs. We started Wednesday by taking a trip to the lavender fields with Fay’s mum. I always feel so lucky to have somewhere so beautiful just a short drive from my house. As well as having a lovely walk, we also tried a lavender cream tea.

A post shared by Catherine (@vintage_frills) on

I share a lot of my everyday outfits which don’t make it onto the blog, over on Instagram. I’m wearing the Cath Kidston London Parks dress here. I have been wanting this dress for absolutely ages, as the print reminds me of special days at the park with the kids. So when it went down to £40 in the sale Rob bought it for me as a little gift. I’ve just chucked on my most comfy Converse to go with it, as we walked a lot that day.

We then jumped on the tube to Victoria and sampled some donuts from Crosstown. I had a very indulgent peanut butter one and faye had a matcha tea one. They were absolutely delicious.

We stopped at Notes coffee to get a drink to go with our donuts and were delighted that they were doing free coffee that day!

We then headed over to South Kensington for a blogger preview of the brand new courtyard and gallery at the V&A. I’ve already written about it and shared lots of pics, but here are a couple more that isn’t make it onto the main post.

Thursday:

I don’t think I actually took any pics on Thursday, I just spent the whole day writing posts and editing pictures. After school I took Jess to her youth club. I need to try to be a bit more interesting everyday!

Friday:

Friday is always my selling day. As well as blogging mothering and freelance writing I also have an Etsy shop and sell vintage on eBay every week. On Fridays I photograph all my stock and work on my listings. I’m saving for a holiday at the moment so I’ve been selling some of my own collection as well as my usual stock. Although I keep my eBay separate from my blog, there are lots of lovely things on my Etsy too.

I wasn’t feeling very well on Friday afternoon as I had a really bad headache. Too much screen time and not enough sleep had got a bit too much for me, so I had a nap in the afternoon, which I never do. I’m really bad at getting enough sleep and I need to make a bit more effort to not get burnt out.

On Friday evening I drove me and Faye over our friends house for pizza, gossip and a bit of trashy TV watching. It did me so much good to chill out and have a giggle.

Saturday:

As Rob was fishing for the last few days, I had the kids to myself all weekend. We started the weekend off chilling and watching lots of Disney films together. In the afternoon we picked up Faye and went fruit and veg picking at Garson Farm in Esher.

Sunday:

I have nothing exciting to report from Sunday which involved lots of Disney films, housework, food shopping and cuddles with the kids.

News, Updates and Plans.

So that’s last week. I have a few nice things planned for this week as well as lots and lots of writing and photography to do. Work wise it’s going to be a busy one and July is also the most crazy month in the school calendar, with lots of sports days, showcases, fairs and shows to go to. We also have some meetings at Jess’s new high school, where she will be starting in September. As I’m planning to take a month off work in the summer I need to get ahead with work so it’s all going to be a bit crazy!

I have a couple of new articles in this months Vintage Life, which you can get your hands on here.

If you haven’t already bought the Spring issue of In Retrospect Magazine, I would highly recommend it. I have written a long article about my family history and the rest of the magazine is packed with amazing articles and vintage stuff too.

Reading:

At the moment I’m re reading all my Nancy Mitford books. I recently picked up an old copy of Don’t Tell Alfred in a second hand bookshop. I love the Penguins with the orange spines, so if I spot one of my favourite books, I’ll always pick them up. I’m definitely enjoying reading an older copy of a much loved book. I really love the illustration on this one, so might try to find a better copy yo display.

Weekly Goals:

This week I am going to try to get a bit more ahead with work and get more sleep, so i don’t get over tired again. If you catch me on twitter after 10pm, tell me to go to bed! My only other goal is to remember to take more pictures of everyday life for next weeks post.

Weekly Wishlist:

I thought it would be fun to add an outfit that I am currently coveting to my weekly round up. At the moment I’m really enjoying wearing pretty dresses with comfy sandals or Converse and just going for a much more toned down casual vintage inspired look. I thought these three would look so lovely together!

What are your plans and goals for the next seven days?

I’ll be doing individual blog posts on some of the places I visited this week, so keep a look out for those as well as lots of outfits, book reviews and baking posts over the next few weeks.

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The V&A has always been one of my favourite museums, no other place houses so many beautiful objects and curiosities and such a variety of beautifully designed items. There is something new to discover in every corner and each time I visit I discover some new treasure to admire.

The area of South Kensington which houses the museums is lovingly referred to as Albertropolis, owing to the cluster of museums, being the brainchild of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. This includes the wonderful V&A a museum which celebrates all forms of art and design.

I often think of Prince Albert and his vision for the museum and how pleased he would be to see it enjoyed by millions of visitors every year. And I feel he would definitely approve of the latest addition to the museum. This week sees the launch of a new entrance, a new courtyard for visitors to relax in and an inspiring new exhibition space to house the museums temporary exhibitions. Collectively these new spaces are known as The Exhibition Road Quarter.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to see the new spaces before the opening this Friday. We were introduced to the project and shown round by curators and architects who worked on the new areas and I was blown away by the impressive finished space.

Having not previously had an entrance on Exhibition Road, alongside the Natural History Museum and The Science Museum, the V&A were keen to open up an area that had previously been home to a boiler house. Visitors to the museum have increased to over 8 million in recent years, so a new entrance was a necessity. Architect Amanda Levete and her practice AL_A won the project and got to work creating a space that is both functional and unique.

The new area is accessed from the street via The Aston Web Screen. This was formally a high and domineering wall, blocking views of the boiler house that had previously been on the site. The wall bore the scars of shrapnel damage from a WW2 bomb that had fallen near by. After a lot of hard work to get planning permission, the wall was opened up into columns, to allow visitors to walk in from the street. The new gates within the colonade were fabricated to include impressions of the original damage, paying homage to the past. I loved this design element, which is very in the spirit of the V&A.

Once you have passed through the impressive new colonnade, you are greeted by The Sackler Courtyard, the first porcelain courtyard in the world. This beautiful space is paved with 11,000 handmade tiles, which were inspired by the rich tradition of ceramics at the museum. The area also houses a new cafe. I absolutely love the contrast between the ornate Victorian building and the clean curves and bright modernity of the new tiled courtyard. Its wonderful to see external walls and features of the original building that were previously hidden away as well.

The Sackler Courtyard, V&A Exhibition Road Quarter, designed by AL_A ©Hufton+Crow

Past the courtyard you will find the new entrance to the museum The Blavatnik Hall. This lovely open space has glass walls bringing you a view into the museum garden. This area really brings the museum together and makes other areas of the museum far more accessible.

You can then reach the new exhibition space down a winding modern staircase. The huge open expanse that greets you as you enter the Sainsbury Gallery is breathtaking. It is built directly under the courtyard and creating a column free open space of this size, below ground is a hugely impressive feat of engineering. The hall is lit from above by skylights which also allow you to see in from the courtyard. I loved seeing peeps of the Victorian building above us. This was a rare opportunity to see the gallery empty. As it will be the home of the museums major temporary exhibitions it will usually be divided off by partitions.

At the event we had the chance to sample some of the lovely food from Benugo, that will be served in the courtyard cafe. This would be a great place to share coffee and a cake with friends or stop off for a delicious lunch. I’ve always really liked the other food areas at the museum and I think this is going to be another I’ll really enjoy visiting.

A special mention must also be made for the loos. I always judge a place by the quality of the facilities and all the visitors were blown away by the clean lines and stylish pink walls. No area of the new addition isn’t completely design focussed, this is the V&A after all. Both male and female toilets also have baby changing facilities, which I know makes life much easier for parents visiting with littles ones.

I really enjoyed my visit and really felt inspired by the light, design and creativity of the space. I loved the daring architecture, which begins its own chapter in the history of the museum, rather than just continuing the existing one. I love that its brings something completely new to a much-loved building without needing to emulate it. Most of all I love the idea of people visiting these new areas, making memories and having fun.

To celebrate the opening of the new spaces, the museum is hosting a week-long free public festival. Reveal offers the public the chance to experience the spaces before they host their first exhibitions this Autumn. There will plenty to see for all ages including art, fashion and family activities.

I would really recommend a visit, just to appreciate the amazing architecture and engineering behind this impressive project. I’m definitely looking forward to returning and seeing how the spaces are used in the future.

You can find out all about the museum, the festival and the new areas on the V&A website.

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Last week I popped across London to Bethnal Green to visit a museum I really love. The Museum of Childhood is a magical celebration of toys, games and everything that makes childhood memorable. It’s also owned by the V&A so you can expect to see the same creative celebration of objects as a way to tell us about the past, as you would at the larger London museum.

Small Stories at The Museum of ChildhoodI’ve visited the museum several times I remember going on a school trip as a small child as well as returning with my own children several times. I love the mix of historical toys and more recent retro and modern toys, many of which I recognise and remember playing with when I was a kid in the 80s and 90s. Whatever age you are you’ll find something to make you feel nostalgic and I just find the place completely magical.

Small Stories, Georgian Dolls HouseOn this occasion I was drawn to the museum by their latest major exhibition. Small Stories walks us through the history of the home through dolls houses and each tiny little world has a story behind it. I’m sure it’s hard to find anyone who is not drawn to dolls houses, there is something so enchanting about seeing the world in miniature, and this exhibition has some of the most interesting examples I’ve seen.

Dolls at Small Stories Museum of ChildhoodThe choice of houses on display are really well-chosen to show both different periods of history and also different sizes of house and classes of people. The stories of each house are told through the dolls themselves as characters. Not only is the history of the actual dolls house displayed on the wall but also a little story about the dolls themselves which my girls found really engaging. The interpretation definitely made the displays accessible to both adults and children. There were also two rooms which had been created for children to play in, so it was like stepping into a doll’s house which they really loved.

Small Stories V&A Museum of ChildhoodI was particularly interested in a miniature version of a house from the St Helier Estate as me and Rob bought our first house there and it was amazing to see what it might have looked like in the 1940s when the doll’s house was created.

Small Stories St Helier House

My favourite piece from the exhibition was the Whiteladies House, this amazing dolls house was created in the 1930s and plays homage to Modernist villas of the era. It shows a house party and I just love all the details including the car in the garage and swimming pool.

Small Stories Whiteladies House

Whiteladies Dolls House

There is so much to see at the exhibition and I’ve only featured a really small selection of pictures here. I’d highly recommend paying the museum a visit to see the dolls houses whether you are big or small.

The exhibition runs until 6th September

Find out more on the Museum of Childhood website. 


The other day I went to meet my brother from work. He was running a bit late, but it’s all good because he works at one of my favourite museums in London The V&A. So after I’d picked myself up some dinner in the fantastic cafe I went to drool over some fabulous vintage and antique clothing.

The V&A is well-known for it’s fabulous collection of fashion dating hundreds of years. There is just so much there and I love seeing what they currently have on display. My favourite fashion eras of all time are early regency 1930s and 1950s. The V&A doesn’t disappoint when it comes to getting a good fix of these eras.

As someone who mostly buys and wears 50s fashions I thought I’d have a good look at the 50s clothing and these were my 3 absolute favourites. In another world where I am rich I would have a big collection of fifties couture and I’d like this sort of thing in it!


Embroidered silk organza evening dress trimmed with sequins, rhinestones and ostrich feathers by Pierre Balmain

Printed silk evening dress with applique details by Pierre Balmain
Cellulose acetate satin evening ensemble lined with silk with a boned net underdress by Christian Dior 

Aren’t these amazing. Since I will never own anything this spectacular I will settle for more everyday fifties fashions that women just like me would have worn sixty years ago. If you could have any fashion item and money was no object what would you choose?

The pictures in this post are a little dark as the lighting is very low in museums to avoid fading and you can’t use a flash!