Reimagining Opera in VR

The challenge from Welsh National Opera was to take two of the most beloved operas in history and use cutting edge technology to reinvigorate them for a new generation of viewers and fans.

The goal was to present both Puccini’s Madam Butterfly and Mozart’s The Magic Flute in a way that would allow for audience participation and interaction while preserving the elements that have made both operas enduringly popular.

The solution was to use virtual reality to deliver an immersive interactive VR experience and in doing so, make Welsh National Opera the first to re-imagine scenes from an opera in VR. The visual and auditory experience that is opera lends itself perfectly to VR and provides an interesting introduction to those new to the art-form while re-connecting with existing fans.

The experience combined motion capture, animation, music, and technology to create a new artistic expression of classical opera, putting audiences at the heart of the experience. Rather than release an app, the experience was toured around the UK as a free event, making it as accessible as possible.



Madam Butterfly and Magic Flute

To create realistic movement within Madam Butterfly, a software package called Houdini was used. Houdini is traditionally used for film and adverts etc., to create super-real effects and had never been used in a real-time mobile experience before. R&D was undertaken in order to successfully utilise the program to create the butterfly effect within the experience. A great deal of time was spent ensuring the correct timing was employed to mimic the movement of the actress.

A second fully interactive VR experience was delivered for Magic Flute. The controller of the Google Daydream is used to attract and interact with the animals within the environment. Viewers must successfully trace the shapes that appear in front of them in order to tame the approaching animals.

The two experiences, together named Magic Butterfly, launched in Cardiff in July 2017, before touring other locations in Wales and England. Magic Butterfly is housed inside a shipping container that has been specially designed by Welsh designer Gwyn Eiddior to help create a fully immersive experience for audiences. Full details of the tour can be found here.

770 visitors enjoyed Magic Butterfly on the opening weekend and 1850 participated in the first 16 days. WNO received phenomenal feedback from participants who found it inspiring, engaging and a great way to ‘de-mystify’ opera.