2022-23 Mellon Faculty Grant
Augmenting Richard Wagner’s Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal
Director and MIT Theater Arts professor Jay Scheib creates a seamless blend of physical and virtual elements for his augmented-reality (AR) staging of Richard Wagner’s 1882 opera Parsifal. Scheib developed the production’s technology at MIT throughout the 2022–23 academic year in preparation for the July 2023 premiere at Germany’s Bayreuth Festival Theatre, which was founded by Wagner himself and was the site of the opera’s 1882 debut.
With this new Parsifal, Scheib and team are the first to sync as many as 2,000 AR glasses with a live stage performance—providing 3D effects to all audience members, processed in real time, with accurate perspective regardless of seat location. After a successful proof of concept that enlisted the Institute’s NCSOFT/MIT.nano Immersion Lab Gaming Program, Scheib used the studio in MIT’s W97 theater arts building to refine the AR system’s functionality and to stretch its artistic potential. Team members in this process include fellow MIT faculty member Joshua Higgason as video and interactive designer, along with creative technologists David Tennent and NAMETK.
Scheib has set Parsifal—a fable of atonement and healing based on Arthurian legend—not in its original medieval milieu but rather in a futuristic, mining-inspired landscape. Layered over a set designed by Tony-winner Mimi Lien is a digital environment: swaying trees throughout the auditorium; the wafting of smoke from an onstage fire; a massive boulder gleaming with cobalt deposits that appears to levitate directly over viewers’ heads. By blurring and extending the edges of reality, Scheib seeks to honor Wagner’s innovative theatrical spirit—and to realize, in previously unattainable ways, the composer’s vision of an opera experience so immersive that the theater itself seems to vanish.
Scheib engaged MIT students in the development phase of Parsifal via the third iteration of an “Augmented Opera” seminar and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).
July 27 – August 24, 2024
July 25 – August 27, 2023
Head of MIT Music and Theater Arts program Jay Scheib is internationally known for genre-defying works of daring physicality and the integration of new and used technologies in live performance. Known for his sometimes controversial contemporary stagings, and for pioneering his Live Cinema Performances, he has won numerous awards including the 2012 Obie Award for Best Director, and a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2009 Scheib was named by American Theater Magazine as one of the 25 Artists who will shape the next 25 years of American Theater.
Technical Instructor in Music and Theater Arts at MIT Joshua Higgason is a video, lighting, scenic, and interactive designer for theater, opera, concerts, and live performances.
Jay Scheib, Director
Pablo Heras-Casado, Conductor
Mimi Lien, Stage Design
Meentje Nielsen, Costumes
Rainer Casper, Lighting
Joshua Higgason, Video
Marlene Schleicher, Dramaturgy
Eberhard Friedrich, Choral Conducting
David Tennent, Lead AR/Unity Developer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “Parsifal” with glasses in Bayreuth, July 2021
Newsbeezer.com: virtual reality – Bayreuth Festival planning 3D “Parsifal”, July 2021
Operawire: Bayreuth Festival Announces 2022 Ring Cycle Cast & 2023 ‘Parsifal’, July 2021