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Madam Butterfly and The Magic Flute in VR by Welsh National Opera

Madam Butterfly and The Magic Flute in VR by Welsh National Opera. When the legends of opera were composing their works, it is unlikely they ever envisaged a time when intricate sets made by man’s hand would be replaced with virtual reality. But that is just what the Wales National Opera is doing this summer. The company has created two virtual reality accompaniments letting those who are new to opera step inside the performance.

The “Magic Butterfly” pop-up installation features two short experiences based on songs from Madame Butterfly and the Magic Flute. The viewer is able to direct and orchestrate the characters, immersing themselves in the music and environment.

When the legends of opera were composing their works, it is unlikely they ever envisaged a time when intricate sets made by man’s hand would be replaced with virtual reality. But that is just what the Wales National Opera is doing this summer. The company has created two virtual reality accompaniments letting those who are new to opera step inside the performance.

The “Magic Butterfly” pop-up installation features two short experiences based on songs from Madame Butterfly and the Magic Flute. The viewer is able to direct and orchestrate the characters, immersing themselves in the music and environment.

This is just a taster of the potential that VR has for stage productions, but it is also a sign of things to come. These days, theatre is less about sets built to mimic different places on stage, but more about representation. Boundaries are constantly being pushed beyond the structural confines of the boards. And for a discipline that is constantly in search of new spaces, virtual reality offers nearly unlimited potential.
Virtual theatre

Since the 1990s, theatre has been experimenting with virtual reality, and inviting the audience to play an active role in immersive, site-specific performances. Brenda Laurel’s Placeholder in 1993 was one of the first to use VR through head-mounted displays. Three-dimensional graphics, character animation and integrated sounds and voices allowed two participants to explore the simulated Canadian Rockies with a local mythology narrative.

Since then, VR has been used in increasingly creative ways. Char Davies’s Osmose in 1995 added interactivity to the installation, experimenting with real-time motion tracking based on breathing and balance, together with interactive 3D sound.

In Sharir and Gromala’s 1994 production, a dancer who entered the virtual environment interacted not only with other dancers present in the cyberspace, but also with a digital puppet capable of mimicking movements as well as dancing alone.

When virtual reality is used interactively it opens up whole new worlds to be explored. The traditional relationship between space-actor-spectator becomes a space-spectactor relationship. The audience is no longer in a passive role. Dramatic action is substituted by a real action, and how it plays out is shaped by the spectators.

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