Three winning ideas to bring opera up to date

Three winning ideas to bring opera up to date


norman lebrecht

November 12, 2022

These are the winners of San Diego’s Opera Hack 3.0.

1 Baroque Reality: Accessible Augmented Reality Stagecraft, a proposal by Esha Datta, Lindsey Blackhurst, Sarah Hutchings, and Mitchell Hutchings.
The Baroque Reality Team constructed an abridged version of the opera Alcina by George Friderich Händel that focuses on the opera’s primary narrative, allowing technology to enhance the storytelling.

Throughout this production, Alcina will be told from a more nuanced, female-centric perspective. AR/MR will help the narrative take a deep dive into why these women might be on the island, who they are, and external forces that affect them.

The technology woven throughout the performance serves two purposes: 1. allowing the audience to see a virtual set with characters’ backstories and additional story information presented visually; 2. using real-time tracking performers as avatars and body tracking technology, audiences will view the story from various characters’ perspectives through devices. Weaving technology such as portable devices (tablets and phones) and UnReal Engine (a gaming platform) into Alcina allows us to explore an alternative narrative perspective throughout Händel’s opera.

Creative Team:

Esha Datta, singer/software developer/technical lead for Baroque Reality

Dr. Lindsey Blackhurst, singer/educator/creative concepts

Dr. Mitchell Hutchings, singer/Assistant Professor of Voice – Florida Atlantic University/workshop facilitator @mhvoicestudio

Dr. Sarah Hutchings, composer/stage director, @composersarah

2 Metropolis 3.0, a proposal by Luciana Perc, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Eddie DeHais, Ian Garrett, Yelena Babinska, Alejandra Martinez, and Megan Cooper.
METROPOLIS 3.0 is an innovative new opera that reignites the revolutionary story at the heart of Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic film Metropolis, colliding the cutting-edge technology of 2022 with the visceral immediacy of live performance for a modern audience. With the emergence of digital intelligence and the physical mechanization of labor previously done by humans, our world is experiencing far-reaching and ever-escalating crises that mirror those in Metropolis. The story shines a light on our present reality, on existing systemic structures that fuel climate change, exacerbate global inequities, and strip the most vulnerable among us of autonomy. Metropolis pioneered a vital transitional moment in humanity’s relationship to technology both through its message and medium. Now, a century later our team will explore the frontiers of how modern-day technologies such as motion capture, augmented reality, production mapping, motion tracking, and live video can bring Metropolis to a 21st century audience.

Creative Team:

Composed by Luciana Perc

Libretto by Jackie Goldfinger @jacquelinegoldfinger

Development and direction by Eddie DeHais @planet_eddie

Technical Development by Ian Garrett TW: @toasterdog, @mrtoasterlab; IG: @igarrett, @mrtoasterlab

Design by Yelena Babinskaya @y.babinskaya – IG/Twitter and Facebook

Dramaturgical Support by Megan Brewer Instagram: @megthesalonniere

Singing expertise of Alejandra Martinez @alejlujah

3 PO(pera)V, a proposal by Nam Nguyen.
Opera conveys more than musical notes and songs, but an emotional narrative meant to be experienced, with as much of one’s self as possible. There are physical limitations to that experience: what seat you are in? There are economic reasons: what seat can you afford? There are social reasons: you never grew up with opera, why bother sitting through it? Utilizing the technology of 360-degree cameras, the proposed PO(pera)V concept embeds the audience at different levels of immersion based on their own interests and curiosity in a complete, virtually captured, performance – pushing aside those limitations.

Three levels of navigable immersion place the audience member right where they want to be to experience an opera performance. They can observe the show, as intended, from the theater seats. Through cameras mounted and hidden in the set, they can catch closer glimpses at the production, design, and the performers. With custom helmet rigs mounting cameras, recording from a performer’s point of view, an audience member can place themselves in the costume of a main character – and be the star of the show. Giving agency to an audience member over their virtual experience, the opera becomes an individualized, and memorable, adventure.

Creator: Nam Nguyen, Mechanical Engineer

There will be a fourth Opera Hack coming soon.


  • Pianofortissimo says:

    If you spoiled the performance by choosing a bad perspective, or couldn’t focus on the music because you were busy adjusting your focus, it’s your problem.

  • lamed says:

    Unrealistic (no pun intended) proposals.

    AR/MR is not cheap, beyond the technology/hardware, they’re proposing original visual content which means hiring a team of programmers, I don’t see how ticket prices won’t increase exponentially.

    They’re proposing something that Hollywood can’t afford in movie theatres with the scale of economy of blockbuster films, and they want to do it in an opera house for the small audience of baroque opera?

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    I never realised enjoying opera could be so complicated! :-0

  • phf655 says:

    This reads like an entry in the New Yorker magazine’s ‘Shouts and Murmurs’ satire column. Every imaginable cliche is used here. Why is the language suitable for the description of a new model of electric car. The sad part is that this is all meant seriously.

  • Herbie G says:

    I must be the only person left on this earth who is perfectly happy to see operas in their original forms; I am willing to acquaint myself with the plot beforehand or, if desperate, pay an exorbitant price on the night for a booklet full of advertising that has a page or two devoted to the synopsis and maybe even the libretto in English translation. The one concession to technology that I welcome is the presence of surtitles.

    Do we need La Traviata set in a nightclub or Turandot in rap, accompanied only on electric guitars or Gianni Schicchi dressed up as Del Trotter or Don Giovanni set in an illegal bottle party with the hero being Boris Johnson? Opera (like Shakespeare) does not need bringing up-to-date; with a modicum of human intelligence, the plots are as relevant today as they were when the opera was written. Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and Rossini did fine without modern technology, surround vision and digital intelligence. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    Thanks for providing this screed, NL – in the words of Reginald Bunthorne: ”Nonsense, yes, perhaps – but oh, what precious nonsense! ‘.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      No, you are not the only one.

    • Ms.Melody says:

      Unfortunately, this was inevitable. Operas used to be done “straight”, as written, but the there were great singers, who, sometimes, were also good actors, and productions that were something to look at. Those were the days when there was no need for the above “precious nonsense” The experience was complete and rewarding. Fast forward to present times. The productions , most of the time, are ugly, vulgar and , sometimes, obscene, the singing is inadequate and the singers have to be contortionists to execute the director’s sick fantasies. This erosion of standards begets the need and desire for intrusion of technology.

  • Singeril says:

    I thought the wheel was still round.

  • Allen says:

    They all sound so naively pretentious. Truly disheartening.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Originally the term ‘baroque’ designated art that was bizarre and needlessly, absurdly complicated. In this sense, the project is very, very baroque, ‘barochissimo’.

  • Harry Collier says:

    Let us hope and pray these Americans don’t turn their attention to Bach’s Mass in B minor, St Matthew Passion, or to the Beethoven string quartets. Bach, Handel, Purcell, Monteverdi, Mozart, and many others, are still going strong after 250 years or so. But not because of producers, stage managers, and “imagineers”, or whatever. Prima la musica, poi la merda.