Ariana Wyatt is passionate about opera. As an assistant professor of voice in Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts, a Julliard Opera Center graduate, and a soprano who has performed for prestigious opera companies, Wyatt shares her love for music with students every day.
Now, an innovative research project combining arts education, technology, and storytelling has provided a rare opening for Wyatt to cultivate an appreciation for art and music in an unexpected place—the hearts and minds of teenage boys.
Wyatt’s project, OPERAcraft, has given eight high school students the opportunity to produce a virtual opera from scratch. The students worked together to create the story and libretto (the opera’s text or words). Instead of a traditional set, however, the students built a virtual set for the production using Minecraft, a video game that allows users to create their own world and avatars for the characters that inhabit it.
To help transform OPERAcraft from concept to reality, Wyatt recruited Tracy Cowden, an associate professor of piano and vocal coach in the School of Performing Arts; Kelly Parkes, an assistant professor of teaching and learning in the School of Education; Katie Dredger, a visiting assistant professor in the School of Education; and Ivica Ico Bukvic, an associate professor in the School of Performing Arts. Wyatt also received a grant from Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). In addition to providing funding for the project, the institute provided other resources, including equipment, technical support, and spaces for collaboration and performance.
OPERAcraft is just one of a long list of projects supported by ICAT. Virginia Tech’s seventh university-level research institute operates at the nexus of the arts, design, engineering, and science to promote learning, discovery, and engagement.
“Why is this important for Virginia Tech? It’s this kind of work that will help prepare our students to thrive in a world where design, aesthetic, and technology have become symbiotic,” ICAT’s founding director Benjamin Knapp said. “Students need to think not only in a computational sense but [in] a design sense, and feel comfortable working across disciplines to meet challenges. Our students must become scientists, engineers, artists, and designers.”
For Wyatt, one result of the OPERAcraft is performance. OPERAcraft became a reality last year, with two performances in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center. As the interactive world created in Minecraft was projected on a scrim, Virginia Tech music students sang the finalized score to “The Surface: A World Above,” while the high school students controlled the character avatars, prompting body gestures and lip-syncing with the live soloists.
Wyatt is currently recruiting a new group of high school students for a second production of OPERAcraft, which will once again be presented in the Cube on December 3-5, 2015.