You Who Will Emerge From the Flood, Victoria Baths, Manchester
Thursday 28 May 2009
Was it worth filling the first class male pool of the Victoria Baths with 86,000 gallons of water for You Who Will Emerge from the Flood – the world's first underwater "operella", as its composer, Andrew Infanti, describes it? Presented by Queer Up North festival and the University of Manchester, it gave the Los Angeles soprano Juliana Snapper a rare chance to show off her unique "mouth-to-water" vocalising technique.
A lot of gurgling, gargling, humming and squawking that is, accompanied by the peculiar popping sound of pitched bubbles, broken up by snatches of undiluted, intense soprano tones. For the capacity audience, perched on balconies beneath the glazed vaulted ceiling of the semi-derelict winner of BBC2's Restoration, it was an experience like no other.
With a 35-minute delay in starting, there was time to appreciate the handmade tiles and stained glass adorning the Gala Pool, as it was once known, and watch as the Sink or Swim choir took up its position in the iron and wood changing cubicles lining the pool.
The programme explained that Blorkra, sung by Snapper, is a genetically engineered aquatic posthuman living 500,000 years in the future. Her eventual arrival was visually stunning. Half submerged in white fishnet and silver sequins, this apparition was helped into the water by two "humans" then marooned on a wooden plinth. There she mooched and morphed and mewled for nearly an hour – a blob of candy floss-like gauze – weaving an unintelligible dramatic thread out of texts by Wedekind, Wagner and Brecht sung in German and Volapuk (an archaic international language).
Blorkra's hallucinations involve a genetic scientist and a swamp-dweller, both of whom we see on film footage interspersed with occasional live projections of Snapper's underwater contortions. The choir provided a ghostly backing but when they rolled off the poolside to float apparently dead in the water, they summed up the event pretty well.
No-one could fault Snapper for her total immersion in her role, though a disastrous technical failure of the microphone seriously damaged the audibility of her underwater vocal sequences. But Infanti's pastiche score was little more than a wobbly, wavering distortion of the worst kind.
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