Opera in a big house can be distancing for an audience sitting three hundred seats away, squinting themselves blind for three hours trying to make out the shapes on stage while attempting to understand what in the Pavarotti is going on. Step into an Underground Opera Company production however, and you will be treated to an intimate and welcoming experience of outright awe without losing any of the grandeur expected of the genre.
On the auspicious evening of Friday the 13th, this inspired company opened a rousing new season of Opera in the Reservoir (Sean Dennehy, Director) in Brisbane at the historic Spring Hill Reservoir on Wickham Terrace and the audience couldn’t have been more delighted with the show.
Launched in 2014, Opera in the Reservoir was realised when Producer and Founder Bruce Edwards undertook the massive task of cleaning up the 150 year old reservoir which had stood untouched for several decades. Edwards’ mission was to remove concerts from the sterility of purpose-built theatres and take them to breathtaking spaces such as abandoned mines, natural caves and castles just to name a few. Unsurprisingly the first Opera in the Reservoir was a sell-out hit, paving the way not only for the continuation of this wonderful event but also the establishment of the reservoir as a full-time venue, supported by the Brisbane City Council. So a huge thank-you must go out to Bruce for this awesome gift to our city.
As we descended scaffolding that lead us underground, the orderly brick archways of the reservoir are revealed with a small number of chairs gathered around a central ‘stage’ area for its guests (as well as a possum in the rafters who was also ready for the show); the faint mustiness of history creeps up into your nose and you sense that you are somewhere out-of-time. Edwards is our emcee for the evening and as he explains the format of the show, it is immediately evident that there are no airs about this tuxedo. His manner is more that of a charming sports announcer than an Opera “toff” as he easily pleases the crowd with his amiable way.
We were treated to a program of Opera and Musical classics ranging from Pagliacci and Don Giovanni to Mary Poppins, and there are two possible programs (two casts) that run through the season. The yellow cast were in full swing this evening, comprising of Ashleigh Crain (Soprano), Louise Doorman (Mezzo Soprano), Glenn Lorimer (Tenor) and Darian Di Stefano-Johns (Baritone) with Brendan Murtagh accompanying on piano. All performers are seasoned professionals with impressive backgrounds.
Not only was it thrilling to be close enough to the performers to enjoy their facial expressions and the way their mouths manipulated the lyrics, but it was also a fun education into the conductivity of natural acoustics. The venue loved the voice of Tenor Glenn Lorimer – his vocals seeming to swim around the space with the liquidness of the water it once held, and as the four performers moved around and through the audience, sometimes out of sight, secreted behind a wall, their disembodied voices were haunting and absolutely alluring. Sitting immersed in this subterranean splendour, I couldn’t help wondering what could be heard above ground. What a magic moment it would be to hear these wonderful sounds emanating from beneath the ground and beneath the old haunted mill at that.
Stand-out numbers were ‘Il Mio Tesoro’ (Don Giovanni, Mozart) by the revered and founding member, tenor Glenn Lorimer and ‘Soave Sia Il Vento’ (Cosi Fan Tutti, Mozart) and of course, the finale ‘Nessun Dorma‘ (Turandot, Puccini) was impossible to surpass even with a sensational encore as the gorgeous performance of ‘Tenterfield Traveller‘ from Boy from Oz and ‘I Still Call Australia Home’.
Opera in the Reservoir is absolutely for everyone, aficionado’s and opera-novices alike. Having seen opera performed all over the world from Paris’ Palais Garnier to a 13th Century Palazzo in Venice, Opera in the Reservoir rates high up on my experiences.
Showing now until November 29, tickets range from $59 to $69 and are available at Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com.au). Such high calibre opera is unlikely to be found at a more reasonable price.