Current, Rising at the Royal Opera House review: A terrifically trippy opera experience

·3-min read
 (Royal Opera House)
(Royal Opera House)

Ever taken psychedelics at the opera? No? Well, the good news is that now you don’t have to break any laws to experience such a thing, because the Royal Opera House has recreated it for you.

Although, to be fair, Madama Butterfly on magic mushrooms isn’t exactly how this new venture is being billed. Rather, it’s a “hyper reality opera experience”, described by the venue as offering a “radical new way” of experiencing the art form, in which “you — the audience — are at the centre of the performance”.

If it all sounds a bit vague, then that may well be on purpose. I came to Current, Rising with little knowledge of what to expect — all I’d been told is that it would involve a virtual reality headset, and a poem set to music inspired by the liberation of Ariel at the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest — but after emerging from it, I’ve decided that stepping into the unknown is exactly the way to experience it.

It all takes place within a luminous structure, inside the Linbury Theatre. It’s designed to accommodate four people at a time — all masked and socially distanced — who each wear a headset, headphones for the audio, and a backpack housing the high-tech electronics.

Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House

There’s a guide on hand to explain the set-up, and who stays with you throughout the 15-minute experience, in case you need any assistance. You wouldn’t know they were though — they’re completely silent, and once you’ve got all the gear on, you’re in an entirely different world.

And that’s when things start to get bonkers. I look around at my surroundings, and then at myself, before realising: I’ve disappeared. All that remains of me in this new realm is a pair of glimmering, dismembered hands. I can see the other attendees, but they’re no longer in their human form — they’ve transformed into hazy apparitions.

A glowing door appears, and we step through. To describe exactly what happens next would be to ruin it, so let’s just say this: there were times when it was beautiful and meditative, times when it was almost overwhelmingly trippy, and others when was I thoroughly convinced that if I stepped off the glowing podium beneath me, I would meet my demise in the bottomless abyss below. More often than not, though, it was all so enthralling that I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

Johan Persson
Johan Persson

It doesn’t stop with the visuals either. At some points, a breeze wraps around me and the floor begins to shake. With all this happening, I realise that I’m not paying as much attention to the audio as I should be — maybe it’s because lockdown has bludgeoned my attention span, but at least it’s a good excuse to pay a second visit. The 15 minutes went by in a flash.

It feels, as we resurface after lockdown, that this is exactly the kind of thing that London’s art institutions should be doing. It’s bold, it’s exciting and it’s innovative. After a year stuck indoors, what more could you ask for?

From May 21 to June 10,

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