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Tuesday, February 17, 1998 Published at 11:45 GMT


Water music at Albert Hall
image: [ It takes 600,000 litres of water to fill the arena of the Albert Hall ]
It takes 600,000 litres of water to fill the arena of the Albert Hall

John Lennon said it would take 4,000 holes to fill the Albert Hall. A unique opera production has now found it takes a lot more water.

During Madame Butterfly's two-week run, the arena and stage area of the Royal Albert Hall will have 600,000 litres of water pumped in to create a full indoor Japanese garden.

The man in charge of the plumbing is Byll Elliot, director of Water Sculptures, Britain's only theatrical water effects company.

"It's difficult because we have to store the water and we only have 15 minutes to get it off stage in the interval," Mr Elliot said.

"We have installed tanks under the stage where we keep it filtered and clean (out of performance time). We pump it up and fill up the tanks on stage before each show, then in the interval we've got to get rid off it."

The water fills four pools on the stage, connected by walkways and designed to appear as one large pond. An ultra violet light kills any bugs which might stray into the water.

Safety is the main consideration, Mr Elliot said. "We look out for everything and ensure there is no health hazard. "Nobody gets in the water during the opera," he added.

Mr Elliot said his engineers were finishing their tests on the system in advance of the dress rehearsal and the Thursday opening night for the 2m production.

The process of flooding the arena with eight inches of water takes an hour.

Another problem is making sure the draining process in the interval does not produce ominous glugging or gargling noises from behind the curtain.

The water used is supplied by the Albert Hall and after the show finishes it is re-circulated.

The decision to use water in this staging of Puccini's opera comes from the "designer's vision" of the composition.

Its disappearance is intended to symbolise Madam Butterfly's melancholy caused by her broken heart.

Although a first in the Albert Hall's 126-year history, the work is standard for Water Sculptures.

But Mr Elliot, who has been in the business for 40 years and founded his company 25 years ago, said each job brought unique challenges and rewards. "No undertaking is ordinary for us, every one is special."

Designer David Roger said he was sure everything would run smoothly on the night. "This is child's play in comparison with Byll's other projects so I have no worries about it working."

The opera's director David Freeman certainly hopes he is right - and that John Lennon was wrong.

"It's not like blowing up your kid's beach ball and finding the leak," he said. "We can't do it that way around."

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