High school students are blazing a path between arts and technology, creating an opera within the virtual world of the popular video game Minecraft. Experience OPERAcraft, a first-of-its-kind production combining education, design, computer science, performing arts, and storytelling, during a series of free public performances.

Presented by the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech in partnership with the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts, the performances will be held in the Moss Arts Center Cube, located at 190 Alumni Mall. 

Performances will be held on Thursday, Dec. 3 and Friday, Dec. 4, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 5, at 2 p.m.

A team of 11 area high school students are creating the virtual opera, which they’ve titled “The Beacon of Mazen Mines,” from scratch. Starting with music borrowed from Mozart operas, they are crafting the opera’s storyline and the libretto, designing and building the virtual set in a custom version of Minecraft, and creating avatars for each of the opera’s characters.

The students’ final product will be a live production. The virtual environment will be projected on a huge scrim, where the audience can watch the students completely control the characters in the virtual world, including body gestures and lip-syncing to the finalized score, which is performed live by a group of Virginia Tech student soloists strategically placed on the Cube’s catwalks.

This will be the second iteration of OPERAcraft, and new elements have been incorporated into the current production. Multiple cameras have been added, allowing production staff to provide the audience with different perspectives within the virtual world.  An in-game audience will be invited to serve as silent witnesses in “The Beacon of Mazen Mines,” meaning they cannot be seen or interfere with the production, but can travel through the game and watch the production unfold from any place in the virtual world.

OPERAcraft is spearheaded by Ariana Wyatt, an assistant professor of voice in Virginia Tech's School of Performing Arts and a professionally trained soprano who has performed for a number of opera companies, including Opera Omaha, Florida Grand Opera, and Glimmerglass Opera.

Two faculty members from the School of Performing Arts work with Wyatt on key aspects of the project, including the production’s musical director Tracy Cowden, associate professor of piano and vocal coach, and Ivica Ico Bukvic, associate professor of composition and multimedia, who serves as the technology design director. Bukvic introduced Wyatt to the idea of retrofitting Minecraft for a virtual opera production and is the lead author of the ensuing OPERAcraft modification and Pd-L2Ork, a custom, free, open source, real-time visual programming environment that is used to control various aspects of the production.

Other Virginia Tech faculty and staff members are joined by graduate and undergraduate students to make OPERAcraft a reality. From singing and videography to stage-managing and choreographing virtual fights within Minecraft, the students have the opportunity to witness firsthand how an interdisciplinary project can help younger students develop critical- and creative-thinking skills in a collaborative learning environment.

Admission is free for all performances, but is first come, first served. To guarantee a seat, register online or call the Moss Arts Center’s box office at 540-231-5300. Each of the performances will also be live streamed. Information about accessing the live stream will be available on the Center for the Arts website.

OPERAcraft started with the support of a SEAD (Science, Engineering, Art, and Design) Grant from the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology. This current program was made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Kacy McAllister at 540-231-5300 or email kmcallis@vt.edu during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to the event.



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