Step onto the stage, into an opera. (It’s OK if you don’t know your lines; just hum a little and you’ll be fine.) White-gloved soldiers sprint in your direction. Turn, and the conductor’s keeping you in line. Turn back, and jump out of the way as an imposing singer strides past you, and those soldiers shout “Never!” – except in French.
You’re so close, you’ll see the Duchess of Krakentorp’s every sneer, complete with remarkable eyebrow control.
Opera Carolina and Wheelhouse Media put you there – in the final scene of “The Daughter of the Regiment” – with a video that you can experience with a virtual reality headset (if you’ve got one), or in 360 degrees on your device (if you don’t) by scrolling around.
“I just sat here with a member of Opera Carolina as she watched this experience for the first time, and she said she felt like she was going to fall off the stage,” said John Allred, co-founder of Wheelhouse Media.
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The video captures the last scene of the current show, which opened Nov. 10 and will be performed again Nov. 15 and 18. It’s a comedy that follows the orphaned Marie, who’s adopted by an entire regiment of the French army. As the opera unfolds, she finds her true love, but meets obstacles from the regiment, and later her birth mother, in that relationship.
So why put viewers smack in the middle of all this?
To try to make it more accessible to a bigger audience, says Beth Hansen, Opera Carolina’s executive director. And this was a good show to experiment with, she says: “It’s a really accessible opera in that the dialogue is in English and it’s a comedy, so it’s a little lighter.”
Younger people are one target audience. Hansen said her own teenagers are particularly interested in virtual reality technology, and hopes more kids will be inspired to interact with the art form thanks to new endeavors like this.
The video, on Opera Carolina’s YouTube Channel, was shot during a dress rehearsal. Allred set the 360 camera up at the edge of the stage in front of the orchestra pit to give viewers the feeling they’re standing right next to the stars of the show.
“It’s a place you’ll never be otherwise,” Allred said. “You’ll probably never be onstage with an opera singer. This is like you’re part of the opera.”
Sarah Coburn, who plays Marie, said in her 18 years of singing opera, she’s never had an experience in rehearsal quite like this. She said many of the performers were a little nervous – opera is typically observed from a distance, not up close and personal. She’s hopeful people will come see a show after this taste: As cool as the video might be, it won’t replace that feeling of being in an audience, watching a live, boisterous performance that’s powered without microphones. That’s “not something you can really capture.”
“The Daughter of the Regiment” tickets: www.operacarolina.org.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.