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I stand on a small platform floating on a serene, black lake. I can vaguely make out the silhouettes of others in the distance, lit by soft lights, impossibly far away. Around me, sound waves bounce and move in time to the sound of opera that cascades into my head and wind caresses my face. Current, Rising is a hyper-real, multi-sensory VR experience brought to us by the Royal Opera House, and it is now the only way I ever want to experience opera.
In all honesty, I am totally unprepared for the awesome, powerful, mind-bending experience of Current, Rising. It is euphoric and hypnotic; at one point, I am floating in a dense, dark void as stars glisten and glide around me, and at another, angular shapes twist and unfurl in front of me. The theme of the piece focuses on “isolation, connection, and collective imagination”, and it realises this through the liberation of Ariel which originates at the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Our whole experience is set to an eerily beautiful piece of opera which travels through calm to the extremes of passion and emotion, piercing my ears and clearing out my head of all other thoughts.
The ideas of isolation and connection are illuminated powerfully throughout. With only four people able to enter the experience at one time, an immediate bond is created between strangers as we all step into the unknown. At times, I can see their outlines in the virtual reality, and I am comforted to know they are there. At other times, I feel totally and completely isolated, slightly afraid even, as I undergo such an overwhelming experience alone (even though in the back of my head I am aware that they are standing mere feet away). In one poignant moment, the four of us are each on our own platforms that are gradually floating away from each other, and I feel a physical wrench in my stomach as I see them disappear on the horizon.
What thrills me even more is to be reminded that such a remarkable piece has been developed by a female-led creative team. Directed by Netia Jones and designed by Joanna Scotcher, Current, Rising features the brilliant composition of both Samantha Fernando and Melanie Wilson, sung by the extraordinarily talented Anna Dennis. As a self-identifying woman, my experience of the piece is shaped by the knowledge of its creators and I find it incredibly empowering.
In sum, I cannot recommend Current, Rising enough. For just 15 minutes I am utterly transported to a different realm; I escape into a fantasy that offers me respite from reality. For 15 minutes I literally forget who and where I am, experience a rollercoaster of emotions prompted by intense feelings of loneliness and connection, and as I step out of the Royal Opera House into the rain and cold, there is a huge smile on my face.
Current, Rising is playing at the Royal Opera House until 10 June 2021. For more information and tickets, see Royal Opera House online.