Is this the future of opera?
A black god from heaven to the castle of Count Almaviva. He sees everything, this God. Every half hour must come one with white gloves, remove streaks and dust. The black god looks like a dark lustful, but is a camera. Something like the present ultimate camera. OmniCam 360 is her name. Constructed by the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute from ten 36-degree mirror segments and connected to ten Micro HD cameras.
The count’s castle stands as a fifty square meter wooden cube-outside chipboard, inside a dream in mint green and beige, wallpapered with peacocks and fine plants – in the studio Halle. The walls around the camera can dance, turning into ever new spaces.
Horst Sindermann once had SED propaganda broadcast from here disguised as entertaining journalism, a good 55 years ago. Now here – the studio is now something like a mini Babelsberg of Saxony-Anhalt-a completely different revolution takes place.
Jan Schmidt-Garre, award-winning documentary filmmaker, opera director, sits on a stool one wall away. Between noisy young people with iPads, in front of screens, computers. He tied a thing around his head and over his eyes, which still looks very strange, although it has long been known about it from the game consoles of his children.
Schmidt-Garre turns erratically, his head wobbles, moves upwards, then slides gently to the side. Virtual reality (VR) glasses turn people into strange lunatics for other people watching them on their adventures in other worlds. Schmidt-Garre didn’t want it any other way. He is shooting the first 360-degree opera in music history in Halle.
That is. The first opera is actually not. That’s what he had in mind. „magic flute“. It all started three years ago. And Schmidt-Garre had actually thought, because the idea was so obvious that he had to hurry. But he didn’t have to, he knows by now. That with the” Magic Flute ” those who were familiar with the technique and its effects, talked him out relatively quickly. A good three hours with Tamino and Papageno in the virtual space, they said, no one can stand.
He has now remained with Mozart. It has now become a chamber play. A total theatre of the heart, so to speak. “Marriage of Figaro”, final second act. Four voices, the orchestra by a Romanian composer on order Schmidt-Garres reduced to piano, violin, clarinet, cello. It sits, probably hidden from the view of the camera, in a side wing of the micro cube in the studio.
The count, outside the door, senses fraud. Cherubino, the potential mistress of the Countess sung by a woman, is disguised as a girl. The count knocks, Cherubino escapes from the window. Drama, love, despair, jealousy. Could be a prequel of ” Love Actually.” Takes just under half an hour, works without explanation for everyone. The only catch: Schmidt-Garre’s” Figaro ” unfortunately has to do without Figaro. He won’t be in the finals.
He didn’t really think about the audience at first when he heard about the cameras and what you can do with them. He wanted to get out of the frontal theater as a director. Being in the middle instead of opposite. To stage the action around itself. And, of course, to take the viewer along in the end. To transfer him to Almaviva’s castle as an autonomous being, as his own director.
Trailer for the all – round ” Figaro”
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The cameraman is coming. Something’s wrong. Maybe you have to buy a camera in Halle. For heaven. You have to be able to see it above you. The people from the Fraunhofer Institute are very helpful. Learning on every project. There is a fine electricity in the air.
The old dream of total theater, with VR glasses it could become reality, of the real experience of a drama. Everyone is watching their own story. Stronger, more individual, more intense than was previously possible. “It gives the viewer a lot of freedom,” says Schmidt-Garre.”There is no such thing as a total. You wander around with your eyes. Is always afraid to touch the singers with glasses, to hang on them when turning on the stool. Schmidt-Garre’s “Figaro” is in a way a barrier-free opera.
That the singers are potentially constantly in the picture, that they have to be observable at all times, that there is no front and no back in the virtual space, unlike on stage, they had to get used to it. They sing, they are so used to it, which makes opera directors quite like to despair, preferably in a direction that does not exist in the virtual. Forward. For acoustic reasons.
That is why, according to Schmidt-Garre, one of the standard positions in love duets in musical theater is that the tenor embraces the soprano from behind. So both can sing into the auditorium at the same time.
The freedom he gives the viewer in the virtual space, he also gives the performers. They can, must play much more intensively, free of acoustic conditions, work with eyes, get very close to the camera. Schmidt-Garre does not believe that you have to gesturally upgrade them for the big stage more than here for the Halle miniature cube.
With Rudolf Noelte, the great theatre and opera director, Schmidt-Garre has learned that singers always have to play close-ups, that even in musical theatre they can save themselves big gestures and gigantic dilated eyes.
The freedom that Schmidt-Garre’s singers now have, however, also stemmed from a voluntary self-restraint. Schmidt-Garre wanted to use the new medium purely. The half hour Mozart is filmed without editing. There are no bezels. The camera, which would be potentially mobile, hangs unmoved in the sky.
Schmidt-Garre had to create theatricality differently. The walls move gently, releasing new lines of vision, transforming rooms. The singers move in these rooms, do not stop rigidly in one place. Schmidt-Garre stages a drama of looks, gestures, a bee dance of love around the camera.
A good quarter of a year later. Schmidt-Garre’s virtual “Figaro” has passed its ordeal. Was shown on Arte, which has co-produced and has been running a 360-degree segment for reports for years. In Leipzig, the “Figaro” took place in one of the opera foyers. People sat on swivel stools. At a distance of two meters each. It looked spooky. Was funny even for Schmidt-Garre. Imagine what they’re seeing right now, where they are right now in this strange new opera world. So intensely immersed. A paradise for pickpockets.
The singers at your feet
We are also in a foyer. That of a Berlin coffee house. Inside, Schmidt-Garre has just told what has happened since Halle and how everything came before Halle. He brought along VR glasses and his final “Figaro”. Inside, we would have become a bit too behavioral even for this place.
That’s how you stand. The chic, but still chunky thing like a medial gas mask on the face. Everything is clear, brilliant, lint-free. Singers around you. Singers lie at your feet. Jacquelyn Wagner as Countess, Olena Tokar as Susanna, Mathias Hausmann as Count and Valentina Stadler as Cherubino. They go to the throat that you want to intervene yourself, help. Inevitably you get involved.
With the eyes you can control, click with the eyelid from one chapter to the next. Search for hyperlinks. Works amazingly intuitive. Subtitles were a problem. They didn’t exist. An app had to be invented first. Now everything goes. And Schmidt-Garre is also very happy with the new generation of VR glasses. They are also cheaper than the old ones.
Completely abandoned, he still says, he does not yet have the dream of the really first VR opera. Now Schmidt-Garre is preparing “Capriccio” by Richard Strauss for Leipzig. Without black god, probably also without the formerly so fashionable video sequences (“I don’t need that”).
And then maybe you could use the “Magic Flute”… As a mini-series. Divided into chapters. Staged by various directors. As a kind of 360-degree continuation novel. You get a little dizzy at the performance.