photo of underwater performers
photos courtesy AFP | www.unterwasseropen,de
photo of a play performed in a pool photo of a play performed in a pool

When professional singer Claudia Herr, a champion German swimmer in her youth, first swam in the art nouveau-style Stadtbad Neukölln in Berlin 10 years ago, she got the idea to some day bring a performance to the beautiful public bath flanked by grand Corinthian columns, mosaics and gargoyles. "I felt like I was at the opera," Herr told a French news agency.

So Herr teamed up with composer Susanne Stelzen and the pair created Aquaria Palaoa, featuring a cast that performs in, out and under the water. The opera tells the story of a young woman looking for the elixir of eternal youth. In her quest she comes across a killer whale — played by a man in a black costume — and a choir of seals.

Herr plays the lead role, diving into the almost-100-year-old pool in her green evening dress. With the help of oxygen tanks strapped to her back, Herr sings underwater, with the whale-like sounds she produces transmitted to speakers situated around the pool with the help of special microphones.

Herr's voice and those of other performers — who also sing underwater but without oxygen tanks — are mixed with sounds recorded 330 feet under an ice shelf in Antarctica. The orchestra stays dry, seated around the pool.