A new series of opera themed parties are taking centre stage in New York – and Axwell is directing the music
Words: Bridget Mills-Powell
Photos: Max Levine
A grand 30ft chandelier hangs from the ceiling, its 5,000 crystal beads sparkling and spinning like a disco ball. Top hats and large feathers glide among a throbbing pool of faces covered in bright-flashing headwear and glittery make-up.
A genuine opera diva, in regal gown and jewelled headdress, hangs over the side of an upper box in the theatre. Her dramatic solo reaches out into every corner of the 3,400-capacity Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan, New York.
The spotlight follows her around the dark ballroom as she swoops down the stairs, towards a huge organ-come-DJ-booth that is centre stage. As she sings her impassioned finale, the Swedish House Mafioso and megastar Axwell, who’s inside the booth, begins to bring in his beat.
Tonight an old form of entertainment meets new. The centuries old spectacle of opera is fused with cutting-edge clubbing and electronic music.
Cosmic Opera is a new ‘extrasensory’ three-event series, that aims to give clubbers a 360 degree experience with actors, 3D mapping technology, custom built lasers, contortionists, aerial performers and even artificial snow.
Each DJ set is broken up by intervals of dancing or singing. It’s a joint venture between event organiser Justin Cohen and Axwell. The two became close after meeting at a festival. “I was really involved in how the night was going to flow musically,” says Axwell, “plus I was involved in the design of the stage, visuals and lights. Normally we just have LED screens and fireworks, but here we had a lot of performers, so it was different to have the human interaction.”
The opera theme came after a summer of research and fieldwork.“I walked into the opera, and thought ‘this is incredible’,” says Justin. “Hundreds of years ago, the opera was the highest musical art form there was. Now, if you’re a 25-year-old, this is the new form of entertainment.”
And the crowd clearly are entertained. They know every drop, every lyric, every breakdown. This looks set to continue until the third and final weekend of parties scheduled sometime in May.
Inspiration from the past has made a big impression on the present, but what about the future?
Justin steadfastly refuses to reveal what’s next for Cosmic Opera. “There might be plans, but we like to remain mysterious.” We get the feeling that the fat lady hasn’t sung quite yet.