“The aria, after all, is the soul of opera.”
— Richard Strauss
A phone call from my son sent me on a fact-finding expedition. We had spoken about an upcoming event in the limestone caves of Rockhampton, a north Queensland regional town. It was opera, a form of entertainment neither of us have fully explored before but one that intrigued us given the venue.
Keen to know more I headed to Google and discovered Brisbane Underground Opera. The company began in 2007 and perform not only in the caves but in abandoned buildings, mines, tunnels and airport hangers. An event was scheduled in my city in a heritage listed water reservoir. A place I had passed a week or so before on my Churches and Shrines walk. I bought a ticket.
The Springhill reservoirs, there were two I learnt, were not always covered by the odd-looking orange hut like structures that are there now. Built in the late 1800’s the set in-ground reservoirs provided water for the city of Brisbane until 1962. Abandoned for nearly 50 years by almost everyone expect the homeless, misguided teenagers and possums, the site was reopened in 2014 by the Brisbane Underground Opera. A most unlikely and extraordinary venue —once filled with water it is now filled with song and sound and joy. The space has been transformed and the experience is transformative.
One enters the chamber from above, down a rigged scaffold staircase. My first impression on entering this historical site was of wonder for the marvelous structure and architecture. The interior features columns and brick arches. A small stage in the centre provides a focal point. Clever lighting cast blue hues creating an interesting mood. Projected images of water bubbles cast upon the walls provided a reference to the history of the venue.
It’s an intimate setting, which allows the audience close access to the performers. I was the second row from the front, in the north wing, and could have reached out and touched the performers, so close was my seat. It is a theatre in the round design that works well. Performers adeptly played to the four sides and filled the space with their voices, sans microphones. As you’ve guessed there are no full-blown operas performed here with staging and sets, rather various arias. Let me not diminish the entertainment value and the clever use of minimal props to create stories for the audience. The cast had not only wonderful voices but also a keen sense of humour and delightful stage presence.
The performance I attended was a compilation of arias from a range of Operas and stage shows. Those featured included La Traviatta, Sweeny Todd, Carmen, Madame Butterfly, The Mikado, Phantom of the Opera and The Gondoliers. A good first time introduction I think. The surrounding brick walls, arches and tunnels provided arresting acoustics. A number of times I closed my eyes to shut out the visual input and absorb the elegance of being wrapped in sound.
This experience has not a convert to Opera made, though I would be keen to attend another event in the caves and an abandoned castle a short drive away. Carols in the reservoir sounds like something I’d like on my bucket list for this year too. The ambiance of a place adds much to the experience. The outstanding talent of the performers is something I can definitely appreciate.
Have you attended an event in an unlikely venue that has left a lingering memory?