Underground Opera Company: Opera in the Reservoir

Going underground in popular culture has come to mean going beyond the mainstream; to develop a subcultural cult following, despite the lack of visibility or commercial promotion while typically performing in small and unexpected venues. Going outside the box. Sincerity and intimacy and freedom of creative expression opposes the formulaic approach to overground music where appreciation of artistic individuality is a maverick adventure.

And the least likely to be underground is anything PucciniDonizetti and Wagner-like where opera has always come across as an occasion for the genteel. Think: black tie, ball gowns, glasses of champagne in the foyer, well bred conversation, polished manners. And it’s not to say that this is snobbery at all; it’s more knowing that there’s a certain etiquette one must follow. And then sometimes, one simply can not. 

But then there’s the Underground Opera Company.

The Underground Opera Company takes the surreal settings of 19th century barns, airplane hangars, mines and underground caves (hells yes; CAVES) to showcase opera’s divergent visual stylings. As a high-brow pursuit, this pop-up – or in keeping with the tone, “pop-down” – opera has taken extraordinary efforts to make opera accessible. Doing away with the sterile theatre environment traditionally associated with the music form, the audience is encouraged to take in the abnormal atmosphere immersive auditory and visual experience. There’s no shaking of fingers at you, no noses in the air, no glaring from the performer – or audience members for that matter – for accidental coughing. There is a general recognition that this is special and as a result, everything that is generally “not the norm” might well be acceptable. And maybe, just maybe, the acoustics of the room are so gorgeous, you might feel the need to sample the sounds in different areas of the space. 

And to unexpected underground spaces, The Underground Opera Company brings you. For 150 years, the Spring Hill Reservoirs has lain dormant. Since 1962, the Spring Hill Reservoirs have lain dormant as two heritage-listed buildings, previously serving as Brisbane’s primary water supply. They’ve been expected to just sit there and put up with a lot, yet say nothing. But the Underground Opera Company has given it to much to say with Opera in the Reservoir across the month of August. Despite the Brisbane-based performance group’s extensive resume, this is the first time they’ve had the opportunity to perform in Brisbane. In the deep catacombs beneath The City, The Company performs a stirring selection of classics from the compositional talents of Verdi and PucciniAndrew Lloyd Webber and Rossini.

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And temporarily opened for this very special two-year-production-in-the-making, the cave-like surrounds of the reservoir are privy to 36cm thick brick walls; offering a space that is conducive to the operatic experience; providing bat-cave sounds exceptional acoustic resonance. For that intimate experience reserved usually to the first two rows of Barber of Seville, the audience are the recipient of a diverse scope of pieces; ranging from contemporary musicals to grand opera. 

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The Underground Opera Company is an underground movement in every sense of the word: The Reservoirs’ exposed scaffolding and rough brick walls perpetuate the raw and somewhat gritty nature of the space, where we can almost expect The Phantom of The Opera to leap before us. Audience members surround the performers, offering not only an interesting visual perspective, but a more intimate and immersive experience.

Photo Credit: Lady Lex


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