Dead City – an interactive opera experience

“Dead City” is an interactive experience that draws on Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s opera of the same name about the fate of a Flemish city and its inhabitants, who are living with a cult of the memory of the past.?In Krzysztof Grudzinski’s version, it is a city of the pandemic era, empty and lonely, but full of digital life. The poetic narrative, based on the original libretto, is accompanied by singing, contemporary music and travestied elements of the original composition. The visual layer draws upon the style of vaporwave and gifs. 

The plot and libretto are based on the opera, written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold in 1920. In the original, from a century ago, the action took place in Bruges. The contemporary Dead City is a pandemic-stricken Warsaw. Empty, depressing and nostalgic. Paul, the main character, is in mourning for his recently deceased wife, and visits places that were important to their relationship. We peek inside their home, visit their favourite cinema Iluzjon, go on a date at the Palace of Culture. 

We pass Rajkowska’s Palm tree, a symbol of their first vacation, and walk to the Powi?le train station where they met. We admire the city skyline from the Intercontinental Hotel, and walk to Zbawiciela Square. The dark depths of the Vistula River, by the Swietokrzyski Bridge, is where they parted. Paul dissolves and penetrates the morphing black space. We hear the voice of his beloved Maria. She bids him farewell with the words: “Everything is a memory, nothing dies, because there is nothing. Be calm, be calm. Nothing dies, because there is nothing and yet everything is.” In the alternative version, the main character is Maria. 

The user is guided by a narrator who resembles our inner voice. At some point, the user becomes the hero of the opera. Depending on which character he chooses at the beginning, he is either Paul or Maria. The user can move through the scenes/levels, using a technique of smooth movement (continuous movement). He/she follows the narrator, an internal voice placed in their head. The voice leads the user to specific locations where, by interacting with certain objects, the user activates holograms and snippets of music. In this way, the viewer discovers the plot. 

Krzysztof Grudzinski is a director, screenwriter, producer of games, films and music videos (including bAranovski, Agim, Natalia Nykiel), virtual production manager and narrator, and a professor at the Warsaw Film School. He won the Studio Munk program “30 Minutes”, and produced the feature film “Magdalena”. He is the creator and producer of video games: “Apocalipsis: Harry at the End of the World”, “Aida”, “This is the Zodiac Speaking”, “Barnfinders VR”, and “Poopin”. He has been nominated and awarded at the KTR, YACH, ARS iNDEPENDENT, Fryderyki, Cinemaforum, and Pixel Heaven festivals, among others. He was also a finalist at the Papaya Young Directors competition.