Hedvig Jalhed, PhD student
Photo: Stig Magnus Thorsén

An Operatic Game-Changer

Research project
Active research
Project owner
Academy of Music and Drama

Short description

Dissertation by Hedvig Jalhed.
What can happen if we think of operas as playful and interactive games? In this practice-led doctoral project in artistic reseach, four experimental chamber operas were studied in order to put the idea on trial.
As a result of the investigation, a proposed system for the analysis and generation of so called ludo-immersive opera has been constructed.

How can live-performed chamber operas be conceptualized as immersive games with interactive features? This artistic study has resulted in a sys­tem model through which degrees of immersion may be generated and analyzed from physical, social, and psychical stimuli. A differentiation of immersive modes has been made possible by the framing of opera-making as game design. The findings indicate that so-called ludo-immersive opera could be developed into operatic chamber opera play for self-reliant par­ticipants, constituting an intimate and alternate practice in which dynamic game-masters may replace supervising directors. However, this practice is entangled with the question of future training for operatic practitioners outside the mainstream opera format, and beyond both Wagnerian and Brechtian spectatorship. The shift from the traditional audience/performer relationship to a novel form of immersive interaction requires a new mind-set and preparation for opera practitioners, to encourage autonomy and active participation by individual visitors.

Theoretically, the study connects recent innovations in opera to the aesthetic principles of the Apollonian and the Dionysian and positions ludo-immersive opera in relation the these. The principles bridge immer­sion, opera, and game-playing, articulated by a reinterpretation of Roger Caillois’ taxonomy of play. The issue of immersion as an artistic aim in opera is highlighted. Moreover, artists’ and visitors’ reciprocal participation in ludo-immersive opera is discussed in regard to its historical context of operatic event-making and forms of presentation.

The project explores the detailed consequences of perception and perfor­mance in chamber opera with ludic and immersive features, primarily in­spired by live-action role playing. The main objective has been to investigate how operatic events can be presented as immersive adventures rather than spectacles, and consequences that the integration of playing visitors in pro­fessional opera implies for artistic practice.

In four operas created during the period 2016–2020, interventions and en­counters between artists and visitors in musically driven situations framed by fictional settings have been staged and studied. The artistic researcher has iteratively been engaged in action as opera singer, librettist, drama­turge, and director. Data from the research cycles include field recordings from the productions and reports from the participants in the form of inter­views and surveys.