The cooperation between the Wiener Staatsoper and VRVis Zentrum für Virtual Reality und Visualisierung already started in 2019 with the idea of transferring construction rehearsals into virtual space. However, due to the pandemic and several lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, the VR project took on a whole new meaning: What do you do when public spaces are suddenly inaccessible for various reasons? Virtual reality is one way to keep these places open to the public – or in many cases, to open them up for the first time.
In collaboration with members of the Technical Directorate of the Vienna State Opera, the VR experts of the Multiple Senses research group of VRVis developed a solution on how to turn laser scans into a VR environment in a comparatively simple process. In principle, of course, this technology is not limited to the premises of the Vienna State Opera at all, as cultural sites all over the world could be translated into virtual environments.
Since its foundation in 2000, VRVis Forschungszentrum für Virtual Reality und Visualisierung has stood for application-oriented cutting-edge research in the field of visual computing. As a competence center funded under the COMET program, VRVis develops customized technology solutions in close cooperation with partners from science and industry, including in the fields of visual data analytics, artificial intelligence, XR, image processing, simulation, and digital twins.
Virtual reality opens up new doors to the opera of the 21st century
For opera houses and theaters, virtual reality opens up both production opportunities and the doors for an entirely new audience that might not otherwise dare to get their first taste of art.
At the opera, the stage is the most coveted location: rehearsals, stage building, guided tours and, of course, the daily performances take place right there. But making all these things possible in just one place often leads to scheduling and spatial challenges.
The Vienna State Opera joined forces with the Viennese research company VRVis Zentrum für Virtual Reality und Visualisierung to make a virtual reality version of the auditorium and opera stage. In the VR version of the Vienna State Opera, stage designs can be tested and revised in 3D models, up close and as if in real life, through VR.
Just like in a real, the stage set functions, as well as the visual axes from the auditorium, can be checked and even the singers and actors – as well as all kinds of audiences! – are able to gather first onstage rehearsal experiences by means of virtual reality. And thanks to VR goggles anywhere in the world!
Stage design beyond time and spaceOpera 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 allVirtual 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.