“Do the drones sing?” “Is it a Star Wars opera?” or “what the hell is a drone opera?” has been the standard questions I’ve been asked all week upon mentioning I was going to see ‘A Drone Opera’. Until experiencing this show first hand I had no answers to share about the mystery surrounding this new, truly unique experience.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, have been around for a while now. While they are commonly used as expensive toys for adults or creating new ways for filmmakers to capture a scene, drones have very much been tied into the army and war. Matthew Sleeth directs this experimental multimedia performance featuring flying drones, their pilots and opera singers, combined with a terrific soundscape and laser light show. Customised drones were designed, built, and programmed specifically for the show and come in a variety of shapes and sizes – all of which are very noisy. But how would all these elements come together to make a show, I wondered?
So on a cold Melbourne night with all these questions in mind I arrived at the Meat Market Arts Center in North Melbourne with hardly any idea about what to expect from the show. The large space, already impressive with huge arched roof and ornamental decorations, was set up with a wide netted box to sit inside, presumably to keep us safe from flying drone malfunction. We were then instructed to switch our mobile phones to airplane mode to avoid interfering with the flying drones. Knowing how often people ignore the request to switch phones off I was kind of glad to be protected in a giant cage.
As the lights dimmed and smoke machines filled the room, the three opera singers began chanting and singing, setting the mood for what was to come. As we were sitting in a netted box, we were initially a little worried that the black nets would interfere in our view of the show – which is only partially true. Eventually we did stop noticing the bars of our cage, though it is always there and did detract from the experience somewhat.
Overall the lighting, laser show, visuals, opera singers, and music was all very impressive. The various drones had different functions, some with cameras, some dropping confetti bombs. While the drones were a cool novelty, I did feel the machines’ choreography was quite directionless, possibly intentionally, and let the rest of the work down. The other elements of the show were very professional and interesting. Overall it was quite an experimental experience and defiantly a good introduction to the world of contemporary opera for those who have never experienced one before. Now I finally know what a drone opera is!
Tomas is a filmmaker, writer, coffee addict and tall person who does not play basketball. You can follow him @TomasZagoda.