Speculum Maius is a new XR opera project created by Martin Butler, Benedikt Holtbernd, Maria Stamenkovic Herranz, Wen Liu, K8 Institut für strategische Ästhetik in collaboration with Bonn Opera and the  Kunst Museum Bonn.

The title of the work is refers to SPECULUM MAIUS (the great mirror), one of the earliest known encyclopaedias written by the French monk Vincent de Beauvais around 1244. A series of books in which he collected all the known knowledge of the time as a reflection of the world in which he lived.

Speculum Maius written as an interactive mixed reality opera for four vocalists, one actor, a four-soloists instrumental ensemble, and an AI-powered, real-time audiovisual and electronic experience, with an XR App for audience participation asks in which mirror do we reflect ourselves today?  

The XR App is used as a dramaturgical tool to reflect on how society functions and explores the ways in which technology can shape humankind, altering societies and affecting personal relationships, as well as the difference between man-made and natural environments.

Exploring a new relationship of how live music can navigate and interact with audiences in contemporary music theater. The compositional concept is constructed on live audiences interactivity, when the audience’s actions become a generator of sounds. The different worlds, both virtual and real in Speculum Maius are enriched by an analogue of live music and live theater audiences reactions.

In this innovative musical theater experience, each audience member is provided with a tablet that allows them to enter different worlds and influence the musical and scenic course of events. As they journey deeper into the virtual world, it interacts in real-time with live music, creating a dynamic exchange between the performer and the individual viewer. 

Simultaneously, viewers are aware of their connection to the other members of the audience, resulting in a collective process that leads through utopian and dystopian AR worlds to an XR world. Here, the viewer’s responsibility is challenged, and they must decide whether to conform to a shared opinion or use their power as an individual to effect change.

Text prompts were taken from the original Medieval texts describing plants and objects and were interpreted by an AI program creating new versions of the objects. These were then hand modelled and created in Augmented reality and placed on stage.

Using the tablet, 3D worlds are created that are unique to each viewer but contain similarities. The resulting AR spaces produce similar sounds, which evolve alongside the live performance. Singers and instrumentalists perform live, while their sounds are transformed through electronic sound design and brought to a different dynamic. The viewer hears both live sounds – the direct singing and playing, and the electronic sound. The choice of instruments themselves plays a mirroring role, with two cellos facing two violins, creating an acoustic kaleidoscope where all instruments reflect the singing voices. Each performance is a unique experience as the viewers always guide the events in different ways.

Speculum Maius is an embodied mirror of reflections of worlds: utopian and dystopian, virtual and spiritual, past and future, human and machine. Speculum Maius aims to explore the innovative combination of interactive XR and AI technology, the new generation of video-game culture with traditional music theater; the integration of immersive theater and live interactivity; and how these new hybrid states and technologies can have an impact on society. 

The premiere of Speculum Maius was held at the Kunstmuseum Bonn from December 9th to 11th, 2022, in collaboration with Theater Bonn.


Martin Butler  – Design and direction 

Benedikt Holtbernd– Dramaturgy

Maria Stamenkovíc Herranz – Actor

Wen Liu – Komposition

Alexander Hackl – Sounddesign

Pauli Jämsä  – Musikalische Leitung

Ava Gesell– Sängerin 1
Ingrid Bartz
– Sängerin 2
Johannes Mertes
-Sänger 1
Mark Morouse
– Sänger 2

Yaroslavia Kalesidis – Regieassistenz, Abendspielleitung und Inspizienz

Peter Lürenbaum – Technische Abteilungen

K8 Institut für strategische Ästhetik gGmbH

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