September 7, 2009

About a month ago, I posted a note about a Royal Opera House project to create an opera libretto on the basis of public submissions through Twitter, the micro-blogging service.  The Washington Post today has a report on the “Tweet Success” of the opera’s public performance.

Composed by more than 900 people, the world’s first Twitter opera, as organizers are calling it, made its debut over the weekend at the prestigious Royal Opera House in central London.

It will come as no surprise to readers that have some knowledge of opera that this event was awaited with decidedly mixed feelings:

Opera aficionados had been holding their collective breath — or nose — for this premiere since early last month.  …

For some critics, the sheer idea of uttering the words “Twitter” and “opera” in the same sentence seemed ghastly, as if the high arts were embarking on a garish fling with bubblegum-smacking Miley Cyrus fans.

However, the results, once the mass of Tweets had been edited down to a reasonable length and dubbed “Twitterdämmerung: The Twitter Opera”, were apparently not that bad nor that bizarre – at least by opera standards.

The opera was “actually watchable, listenable and rather funny,” wrote the Daily Telegraph‘s opera critic, Igor Toronyi-Lalic. One couldn’t escape the fact that it was a gimmick, he said, “but as cheap gimmicks go, this was a good ‘un.”

The Twitter Opera was only 20 minutes long, mercifully, nowhere near the length of a Wagnerian epic.  (One can scarcely imagine someone whose normal world view is comprised of 140-character messages sitting through the Ring cycle.)  It was performed in a small room, not in the main opera theater; among other things, this allowed the provision of laptops around the sides of the room for any of the audience who experienced acute Twitter withdrawal symptoms.  Apparently the four performances attracted a total audience of about 1,000.

Although it’s easy to make fun of this project (and probably some of that is deserved), I think it’s kind of encouraging that the folks at the Royal Opera House are willing to take a few risks to promote their art.  Although I grew up in a fairly musical environment, and always liked classical music, I initially was pretty uninterested in opera, feeling that it was almost like music embalmed.  I was finally persuaded by a friend to attend a performance of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, and I was hooked.  Since then, I’ve dragged a few other friends along, and have made more converts.

The idea of putting the story together from a mass of individual contributions may seem a bit strange; but after all, Wagner’s Ring cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen) is a story taken from old Norse and German epics.  In any case, the idea of plot is a rather loose one in operas generally.

So I wish the Royal Opera folks well with their experiments, and I’m looking forward to see what their next wacky idea is.

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