You may not think of cutting edge technology and the opera together very often. However, in an attempt to reach new and bigger audiences, the Welsh National Opera is unveiling a new AR experience.

Opera as an AR Experience

a vixen's tale

The Welsh National Opera has been around since 1943. Anyone interested in Opera has a soft spot for tradition but that doesn’t mean that the WNO is afraid to try new things. For the past couple of years, the organization has been promoting a traditional form of entertainment with modern technology. That has mainly taken the form of VR experiences. However, when they commissioned Arcade to create an XR experience, they had a fresh idea for A Vixen’s Tale. That idea is a pop-up augmented reality experience.

A Vixen’s Tale is the name of the AR experience based on the opera The Cunning Little Vixen. The experience was designed by Arcade and artist Xavier Segers. The experience features AR components, physical props, and a soundtrack. The soundtrack consists of orchestral music, performances by the WNO, and ambient sounds.

When you start with that notion of storytelling, which opera does so beautifully in its own very distinctive way, what it really hits you, compared to a lot of other mediums, is just the emotion of it, it’s about conveying emotion,” Alex Book, a designer at Arcade, tells ARPost. “That gives us license within the AR space to do just that. What we’ve created in ‘The Vixen’s Tale’ has artistic value in its own right as an emotional experience.”

Creating the AR Experience

When we put the concept to the WNO, it was using some great illustration that we developed in-house, but we always knew that we were going to want to elevate that visual experience,” says Book. “Xavier’s work really stood out. It was exactly the right tone.”

tunnel book
An example of a ‘tunnel book’ that inspired the concept.

The experience is a combination of AR technology and a series of physical set pieces, namely five arches. As users engage with the AR experience, they follow a virtual fox through stages of life. The format is based on the “tunnel book”. A sort of industrious pop-up book, tunnel books have been used to replicate miniature stages for hundreds of years.

“The first impact is going to be very physical, very tangible,” says Book. “[The design] also, as we investigated it more, made perfect sense in terms of being a great thing to add a layer of augmented reality.”

As cutting-edge as an AR experience may be for an opera, Arcade tried to keep things fairly simple.

We were very much thinking about ‘What’s going to be best for the user?’ rather than ‘Can we use the latest technology here and what can we do with it?’” Arcade CEO, Jon Meggitt, tells us. “So, even though we can do amazing things with AR in terms of scene recognition, world tracking and anchoring, and making things magically appear without even a marker, quite often, having a marker is actually much better for the user because it tells them something’s there.” 

welsh national opera & arcade AR experience

That doesn’t mean that the AR experience is completely devoid of AR’s magic and tricks. The experience uses ARKit 3’s people occlusion feature. The tool generates a matte so that AR content can still be displayed when people are blocking the marker.

Experiencing A Vixen’s Tale

The AR experience A Vixen’s Tale will be available for free in the Wales Millenium Center for four weeks, beginning on October 5. It is currently advertised in the Cardiff area through a series of AR posters. While the WNO hasn’t released plans yet, Meggitt and Book suggested a potential traveling tour of the event in the interview.

Gianfranco Colombi

Author Gianfranco Colombi

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