DEAD CITY – an interactive VR and opera experience

The Dead City is an interactive VR and opera experience that combines elements taken from the film narrative, game mechanics and opera. The plot and libretto refer to Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 work with the same title. The original opera, written a century ago, took place in Bruges, while the contemporary Dead City is Warsaw during the pandemic: empty, gloomy and nostalgic. Paul, the protagonist, grieves for his recently deceased wife by visiting places significant for their relationship.

We enter the couple’s house, go to their favorite cinema Iluzjon and for a date in the Palace of Culture. We pass by the Rajkowska’s palm tree, which used to be a symbol of their first vacation, and continue to Warszawa Powiśle railway station, where they met for the first time. We look at the city skyline from the Intercontinental hotel and visit the Savior Square. Dark depths of the Vistula river mark the end of our trip – right here under the Świętokrzyski Bridge, is the place of their farewell. Paul dissolves and transforms into a morphing, black void. We hear the voice of his beloved Maria, saying her goodbyes: “Everything is a memory, and nothing dies because there is nothing. Stay calm, stay peaceful, nothing dies because there is nothing and there is everything”. In the alternative version, the protagonist is Maria.

The user is led by a narrator, who represents the inner voice in the user’s head. At some point the user becomes the protagonist of the opera. Depending on their choice at the beginning, the user is Paul or Maria. The user has the possibility to move within the scenes — levels, using a continuous movement technique. They follow an internal voice that is placed in their “head”. The voice leads them to places where they interact with given objects that run holograms and pieces of music. This is how they get to know the story.

The starting point was experiencing pandemic. Director Krzysztof Grudziński asked himself questions about what we leave behind in this modern world. He watched videos showing people suffering from Covid-19, where they said goodbye to their loved ones, shared their fear of death. Suddenly, after times when we lived flooded with information, at a high pace, chasing numbers of likes and followers on Facebook, and in a sense of fake closeness built by the online surroundings, we are left alone facing crucial and ever-changing, archetypal notions such as “death” or “love”. The question arises: what is left of our “digital” record.

The world of the experience is Warsaw in the times of pandemic recreated in 3D. We use well-known, recognizable locations like Cinema
Iluzjon, the Palace of Culture and Science, the National Museum in Warsaw, the palm by Joanna Rajkowska (Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue installation), Świętokrzyski Bridge, promenade and steps by the Vistula River.

Warsaw buildings recreated in 3D graphics
Warsaw buildings recreated in 3D graphics
Warsaw buildings recreated in 3D graphics
Warsaw buildings recreated in 3D graphics