man with VR goggles and ballerina
 The approach facilitates real-time co-operation within often international teams, a key advantage in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Image: Varjo

Finnish VR pioneers put heads together to re-imagine performing arts

Two Finnish virtual-reality (VR) pioneers, Varjo and Zoan, have partnered with the Finnish National Opera and Ballet (FNOB) on a project exploring ways to make use of new technologies to re-imagine how performing arts are crafted and experienced.

Aleksi Teivainen


The Opera Beyond project is aimed at exploring, breaking creative barriers and crafting extraordinary immersive experiences for audiences and creators alike, according to the FNOB.

“For opera to prosper in the modern era, we need to respect its traditions while showing a willingness to evolve – reflecting the interests and expectations of new audiences,” told Annastina Haapasaari, the project manager at the FNOB.

“The opportunities aren’t limited to content and performances,” she added. “Our workflows can also be greatly enhanced with the availability of new technological innovations. That’s certainly the case with what we’ve currently working on – a platform that enables highly efficient and collaborative stage design processes in virtual and mixed reality.”

Timely and effective

The first collaborative effort in the project is to create immersive tools for the Opera House in Helsinki. Zoan has conceived a three-dimensional virtual model of the stage to enable pre-visualisations of upcoming opera and ballet productions with the high-definition headsets of Varjo.

This enables creative teams to explore the limits of their imagination without having to invest in expensive set designs or rely on two-dimensional images that fail to capture their vision.

“We save stage time and make the processes more effective,” summarised Timo Tuovila, the production and technical director at the FNOB. “And obviously it also has an effect on the artistic quality.”

The approach also facilitates real-time co-operation within the often international teams creating opera and ballet productions, a key advantage especially in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, travel restrictions and social distancing instructions.

“With Varjo, it’s like being there in person,” said Tuovila. “All aspects of opera and ballet productions require a tremendous amount of craft and skill, and the people working with these art forms pay attention to the smallest details. Because of our quality and definition requirements, Varjo’s headsets were the only ones we considered using.”

A man wearing virtual-reality goggles on a stage.
Virtual pre-production allows creative teams to explore the limits of their imagination and sidestep any potential issues before investing in expensive set designs.

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