Omnivore is an experimental opera that was originally created to be experienced with smartphones and tablets. It was first released in the form of downloadable apps for iOS and Android operating systems in 2012. The quirky and offbeat style of the work received a positive response, but unfortunately the apps had to be discontinued in 2013 due to high server maintenance costs. Currently Omnivore is available as an online version, which presents a selection of videos in one go, following the sequencing logic of the original mobile version. Watch the opera here!
The opera is composed for a chamber ensemble of mezzo-soprano, electric kantele, koto and clarinet. It is an episodic work that consists of seven thematically interlinked short films. Subjectwise, Omnivore deals with food and eating; cultural specialties, beliefs, habits and rituals connected to our nourishment.
The artwork started off as a crazy idea between writer/director Jaakko Nousiainen and composer Miika Hyytiäinen in the spring of 2007 - What would an opera in mobile media be like?
At that time mobile phones were still clumsy devices with limited capabilities for delivering high quality audiovisual content, so the thought of making an opera for the mobile platform indeed seemed almost ridiculous at first. However, after the launch of the first generation smartphones into the consumer market later that year, it was obvious that the mobile media would fast develop into a powerful content channel, and it would only be a matter of time before opera, too, became mobile.
In the mobile version, the opera short films were accessible through a theme-related user interface that was build around the metaphor of meal courses and illustrated graphically with sets of plates and utensils. The meal courses appeared in the user interface one by one, so that each new serving would appear after the user had interacted with the previously displayed one. The frequency and range of occurrence was controlled by a set of rules so that each user was catered seven different operatic meals. The mobile app version was ideally meant to be viewed over one week, one episode or one meal per day. In addition, to complete the work after all seven parts had been viewed, a ‘full menu’, (possibility to view all videos in one sequence), and a ‘surprise menu’ (an alternative selection of videos) were displayed in the user interface. The total duration of Omnivore (without the full and the surprise menu) was approximately twenty minutes for an individual user. However, the full length of different variations of all materials produced was about one hour.
The initial goal for the work was to refresh the idea of opera by bringing it to the mobile distribution channel in a form that would suit for the medium. The primary target group was defined to be technologically oriented people who were interested in contemporary opera and media art. A complementary goal was also to make the work known and available to people, who might be interested in opera, but for a reason or another not able to attend performances in opera houses. The mobile applications were made downloadable free of charge, partly to lower the threshold for those who might waver with their interest, and partly because one of the starting points of the project was to conduct the work as an independent experiment with no aim in making a profit.
The production of Omnivore was a joint effort that gathered together a multidisciplinary team of musicians, technicians, opera professionals, mobile media experts, video makers, user experience and user interface designers and food specialists. The opera would not have been possible to make without their open and curious attitude towards the idea.
The journey of creating Omnivore took over five years, due to lengthy pauses in between production phases. When the work was finally released in the autumn of 2012, mobile media had become all about location specific, reality augmenting and social connectivity enhancing services, which once again call for new opera concepts to be developed for the future - but that is already another story.