Opera in the Reservoir (The Underground Opera Company)
The Spring Hill Reservoir
November 13 – 29
Opera is a loaded word, often viewed within a 19th century context and associated with performance in grand purpose-built arts venues. The Underground Opera Company’s “Opera in the Reservoir” twists these expectations through presentation of opera as you have never seen or heard it before … in one of Brisbane’s historical landmarks, deep down below the Windmill Tower (one of only two buildings to survive from the Moreton Bay penal settlement) in reservoirs unused for 50 years until last year’s inaugural Underground Opera event.
Six metres below street level makes for a setting filled with interest. It is not quite a theatre-in-the-round experience but with singers in the centre of the reservoirs with guests spread through archways on all sides, it allows for an intimate up-close and personal experience unlike any other, particularly as performers sometimes make their way out and about in the audience too. It is also a setting ripe for acoustic reward, particularly in Act Two’s ‘Vilja Song’ from the “Merry Widow” operetta, performed by the beautifully-voiced soprano Judit Molnar.
From the opening “Pagliacci” numbers, it is clear that supported by accompanist Brendan Murtagh, the four talented performers are of excellent pedigree. Mattias Lower is an immediate standout and it is appropriate that he should also conclude the show with ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s “Turandot”, one of the best known Tenor arias in all of opera, popularised by ‘the stout, bearded man’. Baritone Jon Maskell is also excellent and his work in ‘Toreador’ from Bizet’s “Carmen” is another highlight.
It is not all opera, however, with musical theatre numbers also peppering the performance, many of them operatic in tone and grandeur. This makes for an overall eclecticism adds to audience appeal, for it is difficult not to have a good time at a show that includes a singalong to ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, complete with colourful lighting show in support. Along with lighting, back-projection visuals enhance pieces without distracting from the performances, for example showing a lovely artistic black and white photo of St Paul’s Cathedral during Mezzo Soprano Clarissa Foulcher’s ‘Feed the Birds’ of “Mary Poppins” fame.
The only element sometimes spoiling the experience is the between-bracket banter of emcee and Producer Bruce Edwards. While his involvement in numbers like ‘Nothing like a Dame’ from Rogers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” works well, his funny story segues detract from the atmosphere and confuses the identity of otherwise sophisticated experience.
With sublime vocals and a stunning performance space, there is much to appreciate about this show for opera aficionados and Luddites alike. Indeed, the program provides a balanced mix of well-known works, less familiar pieces and those which you soon realise you have heard somewhere (probably in an ad).
“Opera in the Reservoir” is a wonderful concept not just for its repurposing of the century-old structure, which once supplied Brisbane with water, but in its encouragement of Brisbane-ites to become cultural tourists in their own town. Just as its venue is a hidden historic gem, its program is one that is packed with unique entertainment and, therefore, one not to be missed.