Late night specials at the RA

26 November 2019


The Algae Opera was presented in London as part of the RA Lates: Deep Earth on 23 November 2019. For those that ‘dined’ with us, here’s a reminder as to the late-night specials sampled…

BurtonNitta’s The Algae Opera is a performance art piece in the guise of an avant-garde micro-opera. It is sung in Ancient Japanese and uses vocal extended technique to build the sound world. It seeks to explore sustainability, future food and the future of song by shifting reality to the age of biotechnology and reimagining the opera house as a manufacturer of algae.

The Algae Opera is an experience. It explores new eating rituals that:

“create alternative relationships with the ‘producer’ and enhance the sensory experience of eating.” (BurtonNitta)


The audience is invited to consume song as it watches an opera singer, transformed with biotechnology, produce algae using breath and sonic food enhancement. BurtonNitta’s diagram above illustrates how the algae mask captures and pumps CO2 from the singer to the algae in the tank.  For more information about the art and science of the project, click here.

During the performance at the RA, algae tea was served which the audience were invited to drink throughout the performance. The songs performed were selected to reflect the issues of the day. The algae opera singer, Evalga, used sonic enhancement during the performance to enhance the tastes of bitterness and sweetness.

Here’s a reminder of the menu served:

Call to breath

Course 1 – Sweet
This first course featured a song about moving to new lands and starting new cultures.

Course 2 – Bitter
This contrasting course featured a song about consuming the talents of another person and how a performer can become trapped by the expectations of the audience.

Course 3 – Sweet
This third course reflected on the first course, exploring how change drives new cultures and ways of being.

Call to breath 

The Algae Opera takes inspiration from the Japanese Tea Ceremony to create a vocal ritual focused on breath:

“Since breath is a fundamental connection between singer and algae…we revisited traditional singing techniques to make explicit the role of breath and breath control in them, the impact on tone colour and stamina for example, seeking to explore ‘fragility’ as much as ‘strength’. We wanted the piece to represent an imaginary ‘folk’ music, born of a Human/Algae symbiote culture where breath itself is the revered symbol of existence.” (Matt Rogers)

This means that the singer’s choices are filtered through three needs:

Pitch to flavour the algae
The art and science of selecting pitch and timbre to provide a bitter or sweet flavour.

Breath to grow the algae
The manufacturing formula is: the more breath is heard = the more algae will grow.
Therefore, unlike classical technique, breath is taken to a point of collapse, and simultaneous onset is no longer the standard onset, rather it is blended with aeriated onset (breath first then vibration) and vocal extended technique (unconventional singing methods to make new sounds) to create more opportunity for breath.

Share the story
Pitch and breath are also storytelling tools used to create an emotional journey for the audience.

So, in BurtonNitta’s future paradigm, where singers are transformed with biotechnology to form a unique relationship with algae, breath is heard, song is tasted and talent is consumed.

“Opera is a nightmare of vast feuds over tiny details; of surrealist anecdotes that all turn round the same assertion: nothing needs to change. Everything in opera must change…”  (Peter Brook, The Empty Space)

The Algae Opera received its world premiere at the V&A in 2012.
Concept: BurtonNitta
Composer: Matt Rogers
Mezzo Soprano: Louise Ashcroft (Evalga, the algae opera singer)
Actor: Sam Lewis (Algae chef and technician)