Opera is old fashioned? Could arias be on the horizon with virtual reality and 360-degree cameras? – The San Diego Union-Tribune | Episode Movies

In 1597 the world’s first opera was staged in Florence, Italy. More than 400 years later, the venerable art form is still presented in largely unchanged form, with the world’s best trained singers and symphonists performing unamplified in grand theaters.

And therein lies the problem. Opera is the world’s most expensive art form, but its audience is aging and diminishing. Can opera in the 21st century reduce its costs and expand its audience by embracing new ideas and technologies?

Answering that question was the goal of Opera Hack, an “Ideation Summit” created by San Diego Opera in 2019.

On November 8th, the San Diego Opera announced the winners of its third Opera Hack Contest. Three ideas, developed by experts in the arts and technology industries, won $5,000 in grants to take their ideas further. These compelling concepts could one day lead to opera productions using technologies used in role-playing and virtual reality video games, as well as the motion capture techniques used in films.

Opera Hack 3.0 attracted participants from USA, Australia, England, Italy, Canada, Scotland, Lithuania and the Netherlands. Here’s a look at the three winning projects:

Baroque Reality: Accessible Augmented Reality Stagecraft

The Baroque Reality team, which includes three opera singers, aims to produce an abridged and female-focused version of Handel’s 1735 baroque opera Alcina, using both mixed and augmented reality technology to enhance storytelling. Spectators watching an opera on stage could enhance their experience through the use of technology that can be accessed via a desk or mobile phone. Audiences could use their device to view virtual landscapes and read real-time character backstories during the performance. Body-tracking technology could also allow viewers to see the opera from the perspective of the performers’ digital avatars. At the heart of the technology is the UnReal Engine, a popular gaming platform that creates three-dimensional videos in real time. The project’s creative team includes singer and software developer Esha Datta, singer and teacher Lindsey Blackhurst, singer and voice professor Mitchell Hutchings, and composer and director Sarah Hutchings.

Metropolis 3.0

The new opera Metropolis 3.0 by composer Luciana Perc and librettist Jacqueline Goldfinger is an adaptation of Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s 1927 German Expressionist film about the struggle between rich and poor in a futuristic society where robots are built, to replace human workers. In this version of Metropolis, almost 100 years after Lang’s film was released, robots are now increasingly being used to work in a world plagued by climate change, global injustice and poverty. The opera will incorporate technological tools such as motion capture, augmented reality, production mapping, motion tracking and live video. Other members of the Metropolis 3.0 creative team include Development Director Eddie DeHais, Technical Developer Ian Garrett, Designer Yelena Babinskaya, Dramaturg Megan Cooper and Singer Alejandra Martinez.


Mechanical engineer Nam Nguyen’s immersive performance capture concept would allow viewers to see an opera from multiple perspectives, from a technology-free view of their seat in the auditorium to perspectives of what the singers see from the stage. This would be achieved through the use of 360 degree cameras hidden in the stage backdrop and in the helmets worn by the performers. The viewers could change their perspective at any time during the performance using a cell phone or tablet.

The San Diego Opera will soon announce plans for their fourth Opera Hack. The program is made possible by an Opera America innovation grant supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

Some of the winning projects of previous Opera Hacks used technology to help opera houses create and present operas. A software program called Opera Map would allow companies to digitally map their stage to design landscapes using drag-and-drop interior design technology. The MusiCue software would allow stage managers and production designers to embed sound, lighting, projection and musician cues into a digital version of the paper music score. And Performance Stock Exchange would set up a website where opera houses could communicate with each other to rent sets, costumes, props and more.

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