I’ve seen opera once and thought that was that, one thing done. But what the hell is a silent opera… and one that happens in a tunnel??
It took me some effort to find Old Vic Tunnels. It was truly a tunnel. Damp, chilly air, and the sound of trains passing above. (Waterloo station was next to the tunnel)
Every guest was given a pair of earphones each by staff dressed in ponchos. On this Friday night, it was a youthful crowd in the tunnel – some dressed in Shoreditch Street Style, some were in suits (perhaps just came from the City). I perhaps fitted in those “smart casual” type, in jeans, leather jacket and a smart branded bag. Especially struck me was how many couples there were that evening.
I arrived just on time, and shortly after, we were all ushered into the space next door for Act 1. Up the stairs, and we were in the living room of a lads’ house-share. Dirty plates with some ketchup piled up in the sink, toilet roles and magazines everywhere around the sofa area, a guitar in the corner by the bed, an inflated doll lying around and quirky posters all over the wall.
Audience sat on beanbags on the floor and even on the bed, and watched the story in close proximity. Recorded orchestral music was streamed through the headphones, while the actors who were just like one of us sang their part. They interacted with audiences – giving us flowers and sang cheeky lyrics whilst looking into our eyes.
We were ushered downstairs to Act 2 by the dramatic actors. They waved at us and prompted, “Quick! Quick! Follow us!” Whilst the audience were congested at the staircase we continued to listen to the show through the headphones. Then we followed them into the next space – which was the bar area (and it was the actual bar area, like, where you get drinks from during the interval). I stood at the back of the crowd, losing most of the plot also because I didn’t understand the lyrics. Thank God for body language. Fortunately for some who got more close-up than they would ever imagine – they literally sat in the circle of the actors who were “drinking” and having a good time!
So this is the experience of a site-specific, new generation of the deemed “dying art form” of opera. I appreciated the site-specific experience more than the fact that it was an opera (definition: “A drama set to music; consists of singing with orchestral accompaniment and an orchestral overture and interludes”), but appreciated more that opera was made relevant by technology and the contemporary experience (and kept me interested with movements ie me moving!). It was the story of La Boheme after all, so it was cheesy, which I did not like in the end. But when the creative team came out to bow, I suddenly saw nothing but the sheer love of these young artists, their humbled selves and their wild dreams.
And I had to give them my smile and applause, and hope that they will give us even more beautiful experiences in the future.