Entertainment Arts Aquatic opera takes centre stage at Sydney Festival

Aquatic opera takes centre stage at Sydney Festival

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It is a recipe cooked up to become one of the biggest international shows to be performed at an Australian arts festival.

Take a giant water tank, dunk in half a dozen dancers and add a stage full of singers and musicians.

That is Dido and Aeneas, a choreographed opera transported from Germany to become the centerpiece of the Sydney Festival.

It was a logistical challenge installing the tank, filling it with 7,000 litres of chlorinated water, and installing it front of the stage at the Lyric Theatre.

Six dancers swirl around the pool for the first act of this tale that has its origins in Greco-Roman mythology and is designed around the 17th-century Henry Purcell opera.

“On the one side it’s very playful, I’m trying to create a contemporary baroque opera and at the same time it’s a tragic piece,” the show’s German choreographer Sasha Waltz said.

“It has a storyline that relates to our life at the moment, even though it’s an ancient story.”

Waltz believes the story is eternal, blending performance with the elements of water, fire and air.

“This is a story about the conflict between love and loyalty for society and it has a very tragic ending,” she said.

Waltz first presented the show in Luxembourg in 2005 and has brought many of the original cast to Australia.

All up, there is a team of 60 performers and technicians, making it by far the most expensive festival event.

The orchestra is from the Akademie fur Alte Musik in Berlin and, in addition to the opera, will perform separate concerts at the Sydney Recital Hall.

Festival director Lieven Bertels first secured Waltz’s opera for a festival in Holland in 2011.

He was so taken with it that he grabbed the chance to bring it to Australia as the headliner of his second festival here.

In the lead roles are English-born singer Reuben Willcox as Aeneas and Paris-based Aurore Ugolin as Dido.

They have been with the show since its inception and believe it would be difficult for new performers to step in as the roles are so physical and the singers are intertwined with the dancers.

“We singers tend to be concerned about our voice and how it would work musically and we were thrown into a much more physical situation where all kinds of normal routines were abandoned,” Willcox said.

Ugolin says adding the singing and movement together is quite a challenge, but worthwhile.

“In fact it was a pleasure to build this piece all together with the dancing to the singing,” she said.

Dido and Aeneas is at the Sydney Lyric from January 16 to 21.