Underground Opera is the brainchild of Bruce Edwards, a vocal enthusiast with a mining background who produces concerts in unique intimate spaces—mainly subterranean.
He’s Underground Opera’s producer. “But I probably refer to myself more as a professional gambler,” he chuckles.
The company’s next performance with be at Sunshine Castle, Bli Bli, March 24 to 26. Bruce will MC. “All of our shows follow that same plan, which is popular opera,” says Bruce.
“Pieces that people will know and will have heard before, from Sesame Street to The Godfather. I use myself as a demographic. I think if I can enjoy the shows, 80 per cent of the population will. We even throw a bit of musical theatre in there, just to give a break from the foreign languages.”
The format has proved popular, with the company thriving since their first performances back in 2007. It’s even managed to win over some more reluctant spectators.
“I think it was after one of the opera in a cave shows, up in Rockhampton,” muses Bruce.
“This guy was a big burly farmer. He came up to me after the show. He must have been six foot eight. He towered over me, and he looks down and me and goes ‘Hey Bruce, I got a bone to pick with you, mate. My bloody wife dragged me kicking and screaming to this thing tonight. I didn’t want to come. I bloody hate opera. And mate, you and I are gonna have words, because I have to say, you just bloody converted me, you bastard.’ Getting those moments is great.”
So what does Bruce put this success down to? Intimacy.
“In the reservoir here in Brisbane or in Bli Bli Castle, you’ve got four international performers standing right in front of you. People who have sung at Covent Garden, Carnegie Hall, sung at some of the biggest opera houses in the world.”
Bruce is a keen amateur singer, ever since he got the theatre bug in his youth, and makes an occasional ensemble contribution.
“I never get up there and do an aria. We might do One Day More from Les Misèrables and I’ll come on and do my cameo as Javert.”
“Our tenor is Glenn Lorimer, ex-Principal Soloist with the Scottish National Opera and the London Opera Company. He’s been my tenor since the first show I did back in 2007. And I can’t find anyone to cover him! He’s a real Verdi-Puccini tenor. He does your Nessun Dorma, La donna è mobile.
“And in this show I think we’ve even thrown the Donkey Serenade in! I love that sort of stuff. Our pianist Mark Connors sings the role of the young boy in that.
“Mark is a sensational pianist. I love watching him. It’s that animation, getting into it. We try to make things really engaging. And comical, where it suits, of course. Our catchcry is Laugh-Cry-Cheer!
“Dominique Fegan, I think, is probably the most underrated soprano in Australia. I’m just so glad she chose to live in Brisbane and have a family, because otherwise she’d be on an international stage somewhere. It’s that good a voice.
“I remember one show we did. It was the St Ignatius Primary School, a fundraiser. It was outside on a hill. All the dads are standing up the back, because they don’t want to go to a bloody opera concert.
“I was with them, amongst this din of conversation of dads over beers, and then Dominique comes out with the first note of Un Bel Di, which just soared across the valley of Toowong. And straight away probably 200 guys went silent. It was an amazing moment.
“Louise Dorsman, a mezzo-soprano, she’s my flex-flexi. She can do anything. She does all my music theatre shows, she does all the opera shows, and anything in between.
“She’s one of the most engaging performers I’ve ever seen. On stage you just cannot take your eyes off her. These little looks she has, she just looks over at you and straight away you’re there.”
“Lionel Theunissen is our barry [baritone]. He’s been around Brisbane for years. Been singing with Opera Queensland since he was like two or something. I remember it was like the fourth show I’d ever done, it was Into the Woods, and I had to sing a duet with the bloke!
“What I like about all my singers is they have great voices, that when you put them in these unique intimate spaces, it turns something that’s just audible, into something that’s physical. So you sit there in the Capricorn Caves up in Rockhampton, or the Reservoir in Brisbane, in front of these people and it’s like being in a cinema when Dolby surround sound ad comes on. This sound goes right through you.”
The Underground Opera Company’s Opera in the Castle is at Sunshine Castle in Bli Bli on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast from March 24 to 26. For tickets, visit the Underground Opera website.