This summer, Welsh National Opera will launch a new site-specific virtual reality (VR) experience set to captivate audiences young and old. Magic Butterfly invites visitors to step inside the world of two classic operas with re-imagined scenes from The Magic Flute and Madam Butterfly. Launching in Cardiff in July, this free experience will then visit other locations across Wales and England during the autumn and winter.
Magic Butterfly will be presented inside a shipping container and will allow visitors to use Google Daydream technology – a mobile VR platform – to engage with the re-imagined world around them.  It is the first time that an opera company has used VR in this way to re-imagine operatic scenes and create an immersive experience using responsive animation and sound.
Combining motion capture, animation, music and technology, Magic Butterfly is a new artistic commission that will be intriguing for those familiar with opera and also provide the perfect introduction to those new to opera.  WNO has commissioned REWIND, an award-winning VR/AR content production agency which has delivered VR environments for Bjork, BBC and Red Bull, to develop the experience.
Magic Butterfly features an original WNO recording of Un bel di (One Fine Day) with soprano Karah Son who recently sang the role of Cio Cio San in WNO’s production of Madam Butterfly. Audiences will also be able to experience lion taming to a recording of ‘How soft, how strong your magic sound’ from The Magic Flute.
The shipping container which will house the experience has been designed by Welsh designer Gwyn Eiddior whose portfolio includes design work for the National Eisteddfod of Wales.  Work is now starting on fitting out the container which will be undertaken by Cardiff Theatrical Services (CTS), a wholly owned subsidiary of WNO.
This pioneering free event follows on from the success of WNO Field, a large scale digital light installation at Wales Millennium Centre in 2016 which represented the 923 Royal Welch Fusiliers who died at the Battle of the Somme during the First World War and have no known grave.  Like Field, Magic Butterfly is designed to inspire and excite both current and new audiences, and present a different and surprising way of experiencing the work of an opera company through embracing new technology.
Associated British Ports is the principal sponsor of the project and a Company that has a long standing relationship with WNO. Matthew Kennerley, South Wales Port Director, said: “This is the thirtieth year of ABP supporting WNO and we are very happy to be involved in this innovative and imaginative project to mark our special anniversary.  Combining technology with opera homed in a shipping container that will move around the country presents a great opportunity for us to support making the arts more accessible to different audiences.”
Greg Furber, REWIND Director, said: “More than anything I want the audience to be able to get lost in the worlds that have been created for them. To feel completely immersed in what they are seeing and hearing. For Madam Butterfly to experience the beauty and power of Karah’s performance which we’ve become hypnotised by during the production process. For Magic Flute I hope the audience will feel a sense of fun and wonder, that they feel transported to a magical forest surrounded by the animals they have tamed.”
David Massey, WNO Digital Producer, said: “We wanted to build upon the success of our last digital project, Field, and produce an innovative experience that audiences can engage with physically as well as emotionally.  This is an exciting, new venture for the company, using new technology, drama and music to help us put audiences right at the heart of what we do. We think that the visual and auditory experience that is opera lends itself perfectly to VR. I have no doubt that Magic Butterfly will delight audiences and help us build new audiences for opera”
Magic Butterfly opens outside Wales Millennium Centre on 14 July and will run for four weeks before touring to Llandudno, Birmingham and Liverpool during WNO’s Autumn season.  Booking is not required, and the experience is free to visitors.  The experience will also be presented in London at the V&A Museum in January 2018 as part of the V&A and Royal Opera’s Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition.

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