'Twitterdammerung: the Twitter Opera' Debuts at the Royal Opera House

By Karla Adam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 7, 2009

LONDON, Sept. 6 -- For some seasoned operagoers, it represented the end of all things civilized, a musical Armageddon.

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.

Opera aficionados had been holding their collective breath -- or nose -- for this premiere since early last month. In a bid to engage more people with opera -- which suffers at times from a fusty, uppity reputation, or so some say -- the Royal Opera House invited the public to compose the libretto, line by line, through "tweets" of 140 characters.

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. A repulsive, trifling failure of reasonable judgment.

"It was an accident waiting to happen," Jeremy Pound, BBC Music Magazine deputy editor, told the Evening Standard last month. "They should be careful that it doesn't overtake the serious stuff that they do."

But "Twitterdammerung: The Twitter Opera" was not skewered by critics, which came as a surprise to many (including the critics).

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 project began when the opera house invited the Twitterati to build on the line "One morning, very early, a man and a woman were standing, arm in arm, in London's Covent Garden. The man turned to the woman and he sang . . . "

It turns out he sang about a madhouse of things, often couched in witty phrases and clever riffs on other operas.

But because few people jump at the chance to sit through an unedited, 14-hour opera, John Lloyd Davies, the director of "Twitterdammerung," sifted through all the tweets and strung together an abridged script, favoring scenes with dialogue that highlighted key themes.

The plot -- using the loosest definition of the word, as many operas do -- involved Helga running off with Hans, who actually preferred William, who in turn was rescued from a tower after a tip from a talking cat named Tobermory. There also was a brief stint at a convent in Bolivia.

In what also must have been a homage to Twitter, whose mascot is a bird, there were jarring scenes with baritone Andrew Slater and mezzo-soprano Hannah Pedley, two experienced opera singers, clutching bird props and belting out: "Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet."

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