Immersive opera ‘The Great Flood’ tells emotional stories at the Stanley

The Stanley Museum of Art hosted Nathan Felix’s immersive opera “The Great Flood” on Thursday, April 27. The opera invited audience members to move throughout the gallery and follow performers throughout the space.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Mezzo soprano Jordan McCready sings during a dress rehearsal of the immersive opera “The Great Flood” at the Voxman Music Building on Monday, April 24, 2023. Nathan Felix is the composer of the opera and it premiered at the Stanley Museum of Art on Thursday, April 27.

Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter

The crowd waited in the lobby of the Stanley with high anticipation on Thursday evening before performers began a performance of song and music while walking among the audience.

The immersive opera “The Great Flood” was composed by Nathan Felix and included impressive vocals and a captivating string performance. The opera told the stories of several families and their experiences during the 2008 flood, depicting different representations of grief and loss that occurred during the time.

The performance started in the lobby of the Stanley Museum of Art at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. As performers continued to sing their story, using the entire space and running among the crowd, they began to move upstairs into the museum’s gallery.

The opera made creative use of the new building space, creating a unique experience for the audience. At one point, the composer stood near a window on one side of the building while performers stood on the staircase on the other side.

From there, audience members were led through the building and given an opportunity to explore the galleries and sections of the performance. The musicians stood at different corners of the galleries, using the acoustics to sing to each other and spread their voices throughout the galleries. Even when the performers were out of sight, they were easily heard.

“It was exhilarating,” Felix said after the opera concluded. “That crowd was really into it.”

The audience walked among the galleries to get different perspectives on the story. The performance lasted just under an hour, but kept attendees engaged throughout.

Though the opera was dark and grim at times, it also had themes of hopefulness and staying together in harsh times. Each performer was powerful as a solo and with a group, and the voices blended together beautifully to fully capture the story.

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“Well, I always set myself up, ‘It’s going to fail,’ but then obviously it doesn’t when I pass it on to the singers and the ensemble,” Felix said. “They always seem to step up to the plate, and I’m so proud of them.”

For the performers, the museum setting and format of the opera offered new experiences. While many had experiences in music, performing opera in an art gallery was new for many, including performer Jordan McCready. McCready is a senior at Drake University and shared that this was her last big thing for the year.

McCready said she thought the echo of the gallery might change her experience but was not sure what else to expect. She had heard of Felix’s composing before but was not sure what to expect with the fast turnaround of the performance.

“I was really pleasantly surprised by all the people that I got to work with,” McCready said after the performance. “It was really fun, and they came together so fast with a few days to put it together.”

McCready also said she had never performed this intimately with an audience, and felt it was a cool experience. As opposed to a traditional opera, where one might be far away from the stage and unable to see the facial expressions, in the gallery, performers were at times standing directly in front of the audience.

The experience was also new for McCready’s fellow performer, Rachel Kobernick. Kobernick said she was unsure of what exactly to expect for the performance, as it was far more up close than any other opera performance she has been in. She also said she experienced some anxiety about the performance going well but said that the dress rehearsal helped her to see it all come together.

“I was just more excited,” Kobernick said. “It’s so great when you get to have real humans around.”