From the archives: This post is from our original site, MyCityLife back on 19 November 2014
It’s certainly getting to that time of year when hymns reflecting on the theme of Christmas will be loudly resounding through the hallways. And getting in on that action is the Underground Opera Company. MyCityLife saw them earlier in the year when Opera In The Reservoir came to the Spring Hill Reservoirs – and even wrote about it here.
It’s a unique opportunity to watch traditional opera ripped from its stoic and staid surrounds and be transported to the long abandoned heritage listed building in Spring Hill. Back in August, The Company performed a stirring selection of classics from the compositional talents of Verdi, Puccini, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rossini from deep catacombs beneath The City. It had been an evocative event to participate in, so expectations ran high that new project Carols In The Reservoir would dole out the same – if not aim for higher.
As we come to Christmas, it all seems so symbolic: the rebirth of the year that follows Christmas, the revival of the Spring Reservoirs, the reawakening of Opera. It seems even more fitting then, to delve into the history of Carols across the ages. Master of Underground Opera Company Bruce Edwards has carefully curated an admirable menu of operatic hymns – ranging from aged to traditional and new, but all stunning in their musical beauty.
Featuring Soprano Annie Lower, Mezzo Soprano Rachael Griffin, Tenor Mattias Lower and Baritone Doug McRae with Luke Volker on piano and the dynamism of Bruce as host, the audience is taken on an exploration into the traditional noël. From the first example of a Christmas tune to The Polar Express’ Believe, it’s a thrilling performance of soaring voices exhibiting incredible control that interweave and frolic with each other and the piano notes. All four voices form poignant moments and dramatic long notes for a lush journey of recollection. Indeed, many might consider Christmas Carols to be on the trite side, but the renditions and arrangements are simply too beautiful and clever to so easily dismiss. In fact, knowing the tunes so very well means a greater appreciation and focus on the skills of the vocalist rather than fixating on the words themselves.
From the simple 4th Century Rome Latin hymn Veni Redemptor Gentium, this gorgeous Gregorian chant featured Mattias and Doug’s resonant voices intertwining as a simple mantra weaving in and out of harmonies of thirds, fifths and sixes.
Stille Nacht placed Rachael’s mezzo tones under the spotlight, this infamous carol still managing to shine in spite of its timeworn acclamation; her lilting notes embraced by the piano keys for a rousing Germanic Silent Night. Mattias’ version of Believe from Polar Express was certainly a favourite with MC Bruce – and it was easy to see why with such depth and intensity in the notes and discipline in the delivery. Certainly, being opera, it’s easy to be overly dramatic, but as Christmas Carols, the performers avoided it easily.
The particular standout however, was Annie’s version of Mary Did You Know? The piano complemented the full textures of the resonant tones of her lower notes, beautifully caught up lofty and flying to the upper registers of her angelic vocals where this modern Gospel song proved a touching flow of sentiment laden with passion; all the while, hinting at a smouldering sensuality.
With each performance, the profound acoustics of The Reservoirs superbly caught each texture, throwing them towards far flung corners – much like a feather caught helplessly but happily in a mild breeze. Truly, the acoustics and ambiance of this underground grotto enforces the rare jewel of this operatic crown. It’s a rare experience to put on the bucket list to elevate the soul and nourish the heart, but Underground Opera Company certainly manages to do just that.
Photo Credit: Lady Lex