Opera makes a splash at Lawrence University

Opera makes a splash at Lawrence University March 27, 2109. (WLUK/Monique Lopez)

APPLETON, Wis. (WLUK) -- The opera is getting aquatic in Appleton, and Lawrence University is diving deeper. Its stage will be a swimming pool.

Opera singers, percussionists and the like: Some might say Lawrence University’s water opera “Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera” is like a typical performance, but with a splash.

“This is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and that’s partly why it’s here,” said Margaret Paek, instructor of dance in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

The performance was inspired by the skill of dancing underwater.

“It’s very difficult, actually, because I don’t use tanks, it’s breath-holding,” creator and choreographer of the water opera Gabriel Forestieri explained. “You know, you spend your life working in air, and then suddenly you have to find a whole new way of moving to deal with being under water.”

Loren Dempster, the mastermind behind the sound waves at Lawrence University's pool, is also the only musician whose instrument will be played underwater for the entire opera. When he was approached by Forestieri with the water opera idea, Dempster says even he was a skeptic.

“He just asked me if I could play music underwater and I said, ‘I don’t think so, but I’ll look into it,’ and did some research and found out that there are actually hydrophones and, you know, tried some things in my bathtub,” Dempster recounted. “Eventually I just tried dunking a very, very cheap cello -- for those who are instrumentalists, it’s not a very nice one -- but I tried it, and it actually worked. It’s been kind of one of the great surprises of my life that you could play cello underwater.”

You may be asking yourself, “If they’re playing underwater, how will we be able to hear it?” A device marine biologists use to record whales and marine life sounds will bring the music above the surface for your listening pleasure.

More than 20 performers are in the cast, including students, athletes, professional dancers and even a diver.

“I think we saw her at dive practice, and we knew we wanted to try to get a diver, so I reached out to her and was like, ‘Do you want to be in a water opera?’ and she said yes!” Paek said.

And, while not all the instruments are getting wet, almost every cast member will end up in the water.

The "Breathe" water opera at Lawrence University's Wellness Center pool is sold out on both Saturday and Sunday nights, but organizers say you may want to check with the Lawrence Box Office to see if anyone cancelled their reservations.