“Aquaria Palaoa” is the brainchild of Claudia Herr, a champion swimmer in her youth before turning to singing. Playing the lead role, she dives into the Stadtbad Neukölln pool in her green evening dress.
With the help of air tanks strapped to her back, Herr sings underwater, with the whale-like sounds she produces transmitted onto speakers situated around the swimming pool with the help of special microphones.
Her voice and those of other singers – who also sing underwater but without oxygen tanks – are mixed with sounds recorded 100 metres (330 feet) under an ice shelf in Antarctica. The orchestra stays dry, seated around the pool.
The opera tells the story of a young woman looking for the elixir of eternal youth. In her quest she comes across a killer whale – played by a man in a black costume – and a choir of seals.
There is also a message on climate change and pollution, with rubbish bins placed in the pool. Before the premiere on Sunday evening a live phone call with the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Neumayer base in Antarctica took place.
Herr told news agency AFP she first had the idea for the opera when she visited the art nouveau municipal pool in Berlin’s Neukölln district, built almost a century ago and complete with neo-classical pillars, for the first time 10 years ago.
“I felt like I was at the opera,” she said.
For the opera Herr teamed up with composer Susanne Stelzen.
“Before agreeing to do it, I listened to music in the bath,” she told AFP. “Sound underwater is much weaker, it is muted. But that gives it a bit of a mystical quality.”
The opera runs from May 1 until September 17.