The Artist Giving Opera an Extended Reality
Why shouldn’t opera be more like a video game? Visionary extended reality (XR, not to be confused with XP) producer and interdisciplinary artist Debi Wong sees no reason the two worlds can’t coexist. As the founding artistic director of Canada’s re:Naissance Opera, Debi continually pushes the boundaries of traditional storytelling with immersive and interactive works that seamlessly weave human voice and movement with motion capture technology. Her projects have received international acclaim and prestigious awards, from the AUREA XR Awards to recognition at SXSW and from the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA). Debi also co-leads Signals, a showcase of innovative XR works at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and co-produces IndieFest, a celebration of new forms of storytelling. As a public speaker, she has been a motivator as well as an advocate for equitable spaces, underrepresented voices, and diverse leadership within the experiential industry.
What would opera be like if it was invented in the 21st century? For Debi Wong, it would be techy. She describes Orpheus VR, her first foray into virtual reality opera, as “a virtual, choose-your-own-adventure opera that immerses audiences in the mythological world of the lovers Orpheus and Eurydice.” The next iteration of that vision is Live from the Underworld, a two-part XR series with computer-generated sets, mythological avatars brought to life by real-time motion capture technology and live singers. Originally conceived of as an online-only digital storytelling project, in 2022 Debi premiered Live From the Underworld II: Eurydice’s Calling, as an in-person hybrid stage adaptation that offers an alternate ending for the series (if you know the original ending, shhh… don’t tell). The finale premiered at IndieFest, a musical gathering for performing arts innovators and marginalized creators co-produced and curated by Debi. This year’s festival will feature, among other performances, the immersive opera world premiere of Sanctuary & Storm by Tawnie Olson and Roberta Barker.