On June 21, the star of the newest opera at Berlin’s Komische Oper gave a stilted, lifeless and slow performance. But this was to be expected, as the four-foot tall star was a robot called Myon.
The opera, called My Square Lady, was performed in partnership between the artist collective known as Gob Squad, the Komische Oper, and the Neurorobotics Research Laboratory at Berlin’s Humboldt University, which built Myon.
Researchers worked with the cast for two years to teach Myon how to sing and perform with an orchestra, and its human co-stars, Motherboard reported. The robot is autonomous—it isn’t controlled by anyone backstage, nor does it secretly have a small person hidden inside it: it moves on its own, focusing on visual cues onstage (rather like a person does with place markers), and it even chooses when to chime in on songs.
But given it took two years to get Myon to a point where it could plod around on stage and sing as needed, it’s unlikely that the robot will be filling in for Placido Domingo, or appearing at the Met, any time soon.
Bernhard Hansky, one Myon’s co-stars, told Motherboard he expected the robot to be a bit more animated. “You think that if you call him, he’ll respond, or that he will recognise and remember you,” Hansky said. “But it’s also a relief to know that it will take many more years before a robot is able to rule the world.”
Rather like the 1999 film Bicentennial Man, the opera questions what it means to be human. On this showing, Myon is still some way from the answers.