After more than a year of shutdown, London’s Royal Opera House reopens its doors May 20 with Current, Rising, a new Shakespeare-inspired production that combines a poignant libretto with virtual reality (VR). For each 15-minute performance, an audience of four will enter a specially designed set on the Linbury Theatre stage, where they’ll each don wireless VR headsets. From there, they travel through continually materializing and dissolving landscapes based on the final act of The Tempest. With dusk crescendoing into dawn, they’ll encounter themes of isolation and togetherness through all their senses as a gentle wind blows on their faces while they drift apart at sea, and when the earth rumbles through the city emerging below their feet.
It’s like nothing the 75-year-old opera company has ever staged before.
“I was really interested in creating a project that allowed the audience to step into an opera not as a tourist, but embedded in the operatic experience,” says Annette Mees, who joined the Royal Opera House in 2018 to launch Audience Labs, a division for experimental digital performances. She initiated Current, Rising in 2019 with Figment, a digital production company that also specializes in designing virtual roller coasters, then secured funding from StoryFutures, the UK government program that invests in immersive digital storytelling. As a result, Mees expects the multimedia, multisensory experience to attract a diverse audience.