London's Royal Opera House promises the first opera written on Twitter

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Is that the Twitter birdie, or just Andrea Baker as a Bird of Night in a scene from the Royal Opera House's production of Dominique Le Gendre's "Bird of Night'' in London in 2006?

For those of you convinced that the downfall of civilization is being spread 140 characters at a time on Twitter, fear not. The Royal Opera House is looking to class things up with an opera authored by the people ... via Twitter

It probably won't be "Madame Butterfly," but it should be fun.

In an effort to get more people involved with opera, which sometimes suffers from an elitist, highbrow reputation, London's world-famous Royal Opera House is turning away -- temporarily -- from classic talents like Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini and giving the composer's pen to ... just about anybody.

We're working with the Twitterverse to create the storyline for a brand new opera, which will be performed throughout the weekend of Deloitte Ignite (4, 5, 6 September 2009). We're investigating how short, 140-character contributions can build upon each other to create a non-linear narrative - like a Choose Your Own Adventure story or a game of Consequences. Our mysterious opera director will be regularly blogging here with updates on the story, and as well as offering his thoughts on how the story can combine with some music and acting and marvellous singing to become a finished piece.

It's a very democratic approach -- the plot will be worked out by twitterers contributing one line at a time, then put to music by professionals -- but some harbor doubts about the quality of the work that will be performed in September.

"It's a gimmick, but not a malign gimmick" London music critic Norman Lebrecht said. "I wouldn't put too high hopes on it. It won't produce great opera." He said the use of Internet technology to concoct a collective work of art is not new -- but that success stories have been very rare.

That doesn't necessarily mean he's predicting a Fail Whale of operatic proportions, but he's certainly thinking a work of tragic proportions my be in order:

"In the earlier days of the Internet there were a number of collaborative novels, including some started by major writers, and none of them worked," he said.

Royal Opera House officials claim it will be the world's first "online opera story." Fans are contributing to the libretto line by line, their imaginations limited only by the Twitter format, which allows a maximum of 140 characters to be posted at a time.

Alison Duthie, director of ROH2, the Royal Opera House's contemporary program, said the use of Twitter is part of a wider effort to get more people interested in the art form.

"We wanted to engage with audiences in the creation of an opera," she said. "We felt it would be a good way to be interactive with the public and with audiences. We wanted to explore how to get people involved at a creative level."

The plot that is taking shape is surreal and, at the same time, very dramatic, she said.

"At the end of act 1, scene 1, our hero had been kidnapped by a flock of birds and is in a tower awaiting rescue," Duthie said. "That feels extremely operatic, people are really getting into the story line."

There is also a talking cat.

You can follow the submissions, cat and all, here.


Of course, a symphony orchestra has been formed from YouTube voting. But can an opera be authored by the public 140 characters at a time?

More than 350 people have contributed so far, with more signing on every day as word of the unusual project spreads.

"It's the whole social networking thing," said Stuart Rutherford, a contributor. "Everybody wants to be involved in something together, even if it's in a small way. Hundreds of people will get involved and it's great to be able to say you took part. The Royal Opera House is saying 'We understand, we're not archaic,"' he said.

And don't expect your truncated blather to go right to the stage. There will be plenty of professional hands on board to help shape the tweet nothings into proper anguish. Once the hundreds of amateur authors have sent in their input, known as tweets, the work will be shaped by professionals, including a director and two composers, Helen Porter and Mark Teipler. Then, several singers will be chosen and the resulting "mini-operas" will be performed during a Royal Opera House festival in September.

Neil Fisher, classical music editor of The Times newspaper, said he is slightly cynical about the project because it seems to be a way for the Royal Opera House to get "some easy publicity" before the start of the new season. But he conceded it could be effective at a time when elitism and high ticket prices are dampening enthusiasm for opera.

"If it gets people into opera who wouldn't otherwise have had the chance, that's great," he said.

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    This page contains a single entry by Craig Newman published on August 11, 2009 3:28 PM.

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