Virtual reality opens up new doors to the opera of the 21st century
Virtual reality opens up entirely new ways of dealing with real spaces and resources for many sectors. In the course of the pandemic, there were already quite a few attempts to make art spaces such as museums and exhibition spaces virtually accessible via the Internet. After all, art is an essential social pillar that can enrich life and open new doors to the world, especially in challenging times. Last year, VRVis and the Vienna State Opera opened just such new doors with their joint project to turn the Vienna State Opera stage and auditorium into virtual reality environments. Using high-resolution photographs and 3D scans of the stage and auditorium, VRVis researchers developed a completely new approach for Austria to generate a perfect VR copy of the Vienna State Opera. The primary goal of the project was to make it possible to evaluate stage designs "as if they were real" by combining the VR environment with 3D stage design models, which are usually part of stage design planning with AutoCAD anyway, to walk through them and, of course, to digitally revise or adapt them if necessary.

Stage design beyond time and space

Opera and theater productions thrive on the worlds created on the stages. Yet, a good stage design not only has to reflect the artistic concept of the director but, above all, it has to be functional. Up to now, it was common practice at opera houses and theaters to develop stage designs directly on the stage with so-called mock-ups in the course of construction rehearsals in order to evaluate the fulfillment of requirements such as practicable assembly and disassembly, ideal lighting, or the consideration of all visual axes under real conditions. Especially in opera, however, the stage is the most precious resource and time for construction rehearsals is limited. Here, the translation of the stage space into a highly detailed virtual 3D copy opens up completely new possibilities for planning stage design as if it were real, detached from the actual stage. Through VR stage designs, the development of scenery can henceforth be carried out by different participants at different locations around the world. In addition, it is quite easy to transmit 3D stage models to other venues, allowing them to have a look at them in VR and adapt them to their own requirements. Or an opera singer who is still in a previous engagement can familiarize herself with the VR stage models by using VR glasses and contribute remotely without actually being on-site.

The opera as interactive experience for all

Virtual reality has an extremely great advantage over reality itself: once you have the right equipment, you can visit places from all over the world and beyond, have experiences that would not be possible otherwise, and basically overcome all the barriers that often arise in reality. The field of high culture, such as opera and state theater, is especially obligated here to lower the thresholds and open up the experiential spaces for all people. State-subsidized art and culture, in particular, has a clear social mandate to provide as many target groups as possible with access to cultural content and cultural heritage.

Many people, such as those from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, might not even think of accessing places like opera houses. Or they might not even know how. Virtual reality functions here like a key that can unlock new worlds. After all, 3D technology has come so far that a virtual copy can even almost resemble the real thing. And only the things that can be seen and experienced become real for a human being – they become a possibility.

The VR opera of the 21st century, therefore, creates the basis for completely new experiences. VR opera can:
    - be used as a technical aid in the usually material-, cost- and time-intensive design of stage sets,
        - serve as a basis for collaborative, cross-border work by a wide range of stakeholders,
            - be used remotely from anywhere for the artists' first rehearsal experiences,
                - enable tours for people anywhere in the world or with special needs,
                    - create training scenarios for educational projects, for example,
                        - remain virtually available in times such as pandemics, when public spaces must be closed to protect the public,
                            - preserve the "as-is" state of cultural heritage as a virtual copy in the event of a disaster such as fire or flood.

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