Theatergoers who attend Opera Parallèle’s “Everest: An Immersive Experience” will not only experience a Himalayan blizzard, they also will be asked to don white ponchos and be part of the Mount Everest landscape. 

“Everest” offers a stunning if startling look into the future of opera.  In British composer Joby Talbot’s one-hour piece, animation is used to present the true story of climbers attempting to scale Mount Everest in 1996, an expedition that ended in death for two of the three climbers that are the focus of the work. The expedition was the subject of Jon Krakauer’s 1997 book “Into Thin Air.” 

Opera Parallèle’s “Everest: An Immersive Experience” at Z Space tells the story of the fatal climbing expedition that was the subject of the book “Into Thin Air.” (Photo by Stefan Cohen/Courtesy Opera Parallèle) 

The original “Everest” premiered in Dallas in 2015, a co-production with Opera Parallèle. The company then reworked it into a digital graphic novel. Now Opera Parallèle has given it another iteration for a live audience, projecting the film around the entire theater instead of onto a single screen, with the white-clad audience seated in the middle. Artistic director and conductor Nicole Paiement, who led the Dallas premiere, has prepared the excellent cast, which has been prerecorded as a digital soundtrack with orchestral forces and small chorus.

Brilliant animated illustrations by Mark Simmons, in collaboration with projection designer David Murakami and director Brian Staufenbiel, treat the narrative handsomely, calling forth the story of courage and tenacity and drawing larger-than-life images of the subjects in the theater surround. Weather conditions that contributed to the deaths are reflected in a constant, moving snowstorm as the figures climb through it, and the mountain, a significant character in the opera, shifts and changes dramatically. Also ever present are the spirits of hikers from the past who have perished on its slopes.   

The prerecorded digital soundtrack, a collaboration between Talbot and Paiement, meshes the musical forces powerfully.  Vocalists and orchestra are unseen—the solo voices express the excitement and fear they face in the raging storm, the fatigue and loss of home. The four-voice chorus representing the “soul of the mountain” and enhanced by multitrack takes, marks the time and eventual doom the climbers face.  Talbot’s largely tonal music in this, his first opera, and Gene Scheer’s succinct libretto work together to create powerful theater. 

Tenor Nathan Granner portrays Rob Hall in strong, shining tones —the expedition leader who refuses to leave behind Doug (baritone Hadleigh Adams) and dies on the mountain with him. Adams’ voice captures perfectly the downslide from dream to death, perfectly mirroring his animated character. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is outstanding as Rob’s wife; her bright, heady voice weaves the story together as she waits at home for the tragic end she knows will come. Their final duet is a high point. Kevin Burdette is the surviving climber Beck; his burnished bass moving at every turn. It is the visions of his daughter, sung by Charlotte Fanvu, that prompts him to fight for survival.  Scheer’s libretto is potent and succinct, capturing the diminishing hopes of the climbers. 

Simmons and Murakami have used the motion capture process to turn live artists into their animated avatars, much like the film “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and the effects are magical. 

Opera Parallèle’s “Everest: An Immersive Experience,” which doesn’t include live singers, offers opera companies a way to cost effectively present new productions. (Photo by Stefan Cohen/Courtesy Opera Parallèle) 

The major downside in this genre-bending piece has to do with acoustics and music, and while the voices come off the prerecording relatively well, the richness of the orchestral sound is lacking, not to mention the presence of live singers and players. 

That said, the immersive “Everest” expands the possibilities of what opera can do. Major orchestras are picking it up—Paiement will conduct it with the BBC Orchestra in the spring—and regional companies such as Calgary Opera already have produced it. The fact of its cost effectiveness makes it possible to add performances to meet demand, as Opera Parallèle has done during this run.  

Opera Parallèle’s “Everest: An Immersive Experience” continues through Feb. 12 at Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20 to $75; visit