How to write an #operaplot

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Looking through the 900 odd (sometimes very odd) #operaplot entries, I started noticing some distinct trends, a number of “schools” of #operaplot authoring. This isn’t that surprising, there are only so many ways one can distill a multi hour convergence of music and theater into a coherent series of 140 characters (130 excluding the #operaplot hash).

As a service to future #operaplotters, I’ve taken the time to assemble a semi-scholarly taxonomy of the 2010 entries, illustrative examples included.

The Couplet

Among the most common structures in the operaplot canon. It encourages creativity through restriction (as if 130 characters weren’t restrictive enough). Humor often comes from unexpected (or tortured) rhymes. Note: limericks are included as a special case of couplet, but are much rarer, due to the difficulty in squeezing thirty four syllables into 130 characters.

Gerrit Theule – Willy Wonka

Bratty, fatty, rich, or broke: Who’s the most deserving bloke? Mind the rules the Oompahs say; None, save Charlie, get to stay.

Le Boyfriend – Peter Grimes

Grimes is at his exercise when yet another ‘prentice dies. Ellen helps but folks defeat her. Nothing’s left but “Goodbye Peter!”

mlaffs – La Boheme

Rodolfo’s a friend of Mimi/ Who tried to do the shimmy/ But TB, that guff/ Cant be cured by a muff/ Who can save her? Not him-y

pattyoboe – The Ring Cycle

3 Rhine maidens like to sing; this is how we start the Ring. It won’t end for several days, with lots of death & one large blaze

The Lyric

For this structure, the lyrics to an existing song are rewritten to summarize the opera. Much less common than the couplet, this form is even more restrictive than the couplet, but can be used to greater comic effect, since the proper song choice can add a parallel layer of meaning to the #operaplot (see later section on Anachronism).

Frindley – La Giocanda

Hello muddah, hello faddah, I’m in love w/ Gioconda! But she hates me (so enticing), And goes in for all this noble sacrificing

MMmusing – L’Elisir d’amore

Don’t cry for me my Adina. The truth is I never left you all thru your sarge phase. I’m a persister; even enlisted to buy elixir.

JoseSPiano – Susannah

Susie’s got a gun. It’s her brother’s gun. Look at those Elders run. Her whole world’s come undone. What did her Preacher do?

Paul JZ – La Triviata

Her name was Violet, she was a call girl. With camélias in her hair & consumption in the air. At the AH-PRAH! Don’t fall in love!

The Anachronism

If a parallel can be discovered between a situation or character in the opera and a current phenomenon, considerable comedic value can be introduced by highlighting that parallel. This approach is closely related to The Mash Up, discussed later.

Alejoplay – Der Rosenkavalier

MILF tells her effeminate lover to play with someone his own age.

Mehgan A – Carmen

Hey Jose – next time, eHarmony…

Liszt Nut – Lohengren

Tough prenup:”Don’t ask who I am.” Decided not to go with the Mendelsohn wedding march. BTW,when’s the next swan due to arrive?

Music vs Theater – Il Console

Magda:”Baby’s sick, Grandma’s sick, Dad’s missing. HELP!” State:”Take two forms, call back in the AM.” Single Payer:The Opera?

Gerrit Theule – The Bartered Bride

Love seems lost (bartered away even!) until the Village People show up. That’s them right? The dancer, the Indian, and the bear?

Nicole Brockmann – Hansel and Gretel

Starving latchkey kids thrown out by abusive mom; in woods, they get into witchcraft, cannibalism, murder. Perfect for children!

Frindley – The Telephone

Can you hear me now? [No] Can you hear me now? [No] Damn phone. [Goes out] Can you hear me now? Good. Will you marry me? Yes!

The Terse Synopsis

Another very common technique. For this approach, the #operaplotter lists a rapid fire series of very short descriptions of the events and characters of the opera. Sources of humor are an ironic or dismissive summary of said events. Sometimes there are syntactic motifs or rhymes to strengthen the concept.

MMmusing – Le Nozze di Figaro

Wedding Day: Boss wants bride. Old bag wants me. Page just wants it. Send letter. Dress up page. Find mom in bag. It works out!

Nicole Brockmann – The Dialogue of the Carmelites

Liberte, egalite, fraternite; Blanche: dismay; nuns who pray; Chevalier: run away; cops: obey! Dying day: fears allay, sing Salve

NYOTweets – The Cunning Little Vixen

Guy meets fox. Fox escapes. Fox gets hitched. Fox has kids. Fox gets shot. Guy meets frog. Frog croaks. Guy croaks. That’s life.

Huntley FX – Carmen

Carmen: Boy meets girl, girl meets another boy, 1st boy kills girl. The End.

Harry Fiddler – Eugene Onegin

Dear Eugene, I love you. Dear Tati, I don’t. BANG! Dear Tati, I love you. Dear Eugene, I don’t. CURTAIN.

The Transformation

In this sophisticated variant of #operaplot, the tweet assumes the form or structure of another medium. The most common transformation is a classified ad (note: the author believed he was being very original when he submitted his Porgy and Bess classified ad. Oh well.)

Shevinka – Parsifal

Verbose old man seeks virgin-idiot for grail-ritual hospitanz, possible full-time engagement. Spear negotiable; empathy a must.

Music vs Theater – Porgy and Bess

SBF iso SBM. Car,mule,legs optional. Happy dust OK. Just broke up w bf,so off to NYC for week. Write 2u l8r. (account deleted)

Megoceleste – Sigfried

SWF seeks man willing to relocate to a rock for eternal love and the occasional ring of fire. But you have to go thru dad first

Opera San Jose – Anna Karenina

MWF seeks hot SWM for passionate destructive relationship. Likes: reading, horses, Italy. Dislikes: politics, husband, trains.

Devon Cestes – Bluebeard’s Castle

For sale: One castle. Lots of storage, lots of light, garden. Lakefront property. Some stains. Previous tenants might not leave.

other examples are a movie trailer, a Clue accusation, an invitation, or , quite hilariously, a LOLcat.

MMmusing – Magic Flute

In a world where men r birds & queens pierce the nite,1 man will brave it all 4 love & enlightenment. From the Masons who suck @ #operaplot

Amndw2 – Tosca

Signora Floria. In the dining room. With the steak knife.

Hats Stand Opera – Norma

BBQ Stonehenge this evening. Bring a child or two. RSVP

Nicole Brockman – Das Rheingold

I’m in ur Rhine, stealin ur gold/I can haz love?/Curses: I haz one/Applz=NOM/Want MOAR gold/O hai/Impending doom: ur doin it rite

The Paraphrase

In this technique, the #operaplot takes the form of a line spoken by a character in the opera, often in modern vernacular, that summarizes the opera from that characters perspective. Humor derives from the absurdity of common opera situations in a contemporary context.

Henri Drost – La Fancuilla del West

I play poker, carry a gun and will read you the bible. Oh, and I’m in love with a smuggler, got a problem with that, sheriff?

Fun With Iago – Eugene Onegin

So I wrote this guy this EPIC love letter & he’s like “No thanks”, but now I’m married & rich & he’s all “OMG I LURV U!!” WTF?

Oliver JMC – Rigoletto

“Hey Count! Thanks for not raping my fiancée!”/”I’m going to try to seduce her anyway”/”You do realize you’re the buffo, right?”

Patrick Swanson – Don Giovanni

I tell ya, Leporello-life is good. Bangin hot chicks, breakin hearts. Pass the butter. *knock knock* Who’s there? Oh shit.

Sam Neuman – Tales of Hoffman

Yeah, bros, I could totally have hooked up with all these crazy-hot women, but this bass-baritone kept cockblocking me

MPRMike – Rigoletto

You know what would be hilarious and totally harmless fun? Kidnapping the jester’s daughter. You in?

Christiana Cola – Salome

I’m a pretty princess, so why don’t you like me, smelly man? Here’s all my clothes dad, now KILL HIM! ooohh sweet severed head–

The Internal Reference

The #operaplotter uses a distinctive lyric from an aria from within the opera score to summarize the entire opera. This is not a particularly common approach. It is risky, since it often requires close knowledge of the underlying opera in order to make any sense at all.

Mandy Inhofer – Into the Woods

The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the plot as convoluted as a kaleidoscope, and Bernadette Peters

Chicken Feet 2003 – Doctor Atomic

Batter my ears three noted score

The Mash Up

In the Mash Up, the plot is described in terms of one or more contemporary pieces of entertainment that bear similarities to to opera. This is often very closely related to the Anachronism.

Meister Mole – Die Meistersingers

“Nürnberg’s Got Talent”

Note: the majority of #operaplots for Die Meistersingers were Mash Ups with either American Idol or America’s Got Talent. The author prefers the succinct.

N Brockmann – I Pagliacci

Ripped from the headlines: sad clown loses it; stabs wife+her lover for real, not pretend. Hey-wasn’t this a Law & Order episode?

John Pitcher – La Cenerentola

The Bachelor with two ugly step-sisters and no implants

P Scleuse – L’enfant et les sortileges

It’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” but with furniture and toys instead of monsters. And in French.

Arbakr – Die Walküre

Wotan and the the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

P Schleuse – Pélleas et Mélisande

It’s Tristan und Isolde, but with no potion, less dissonance, and less action. And in French.

Music Vs Theater – Turn of the Screw

Mix one part Mary Poppins and one part Sixth Sense. Turn until screwed.

The Meta

For the more post modernly inclined, the #operaplot can be an opportunity to comment on an aspect of the opera other than the plot, most often the experience of actually watching the opera. Usually something about how long it is.

MPRMike – The Magic Flute

Zzzz… Oh, look! The funny bird man is back! Oh, there he goes. Zzzzzz..

Danny Liss – The Ring Cycle

The ring destroys everyone that touches it. There, I just saved you 14 hours.

Sam Neuman -Ewartung

I am alone in a forest! I am screaming what seem to be random notes! AHH! OOH! AOOH! (This will be done in 45 minutes. Promise.)

Nicole Brockmann – The Pearl Fisherman

2 pearl fishers wax nostalgic re: love, friendship; break into song. What? There’s more to this opera? Huh. Could have fooled me.

Other commentary can be directed towards the actual composition of the opera:

kpappag –Ghosts of Versailles

beheaded ghosts, Turkish dancers, and 18th century Spaniards. Maybe the Met just wanted to clean out its prop room.

R Lowen BVT-Turandot

She kills not only her suitors and a slave girl, but also the composer

Music vs Theater – Nixon in China

@Kissinger23 new idea for comeback: covertly fund musical with me as the hero. Focus on positive. Can we get Bernstein?

Music vs Theater – La Boheme

“OMG, so, it’s like a remake of ‘Rent’, only they used, like, CLASSICAL music. What a cool idea, right?” Cue facepalm.

Unclassifiable

There are a handful of fine entries that don’t seem to fit into previous molds, but are still quite effective for unique reasons.

RalphGraves – Orfeo e Euridice

Greek musician goes to hell and back. Wife only makes it halfway.

That’s just a great gag.

Opera San Jose – La Cenerentola

Once upon a time, there was no pumpkin coach, no glass slipper and no evil stepmother. Disney can kiss my a@#. The end.

Nice use of the “Once upon a time” paradigm to set up the gag.

David Karlin – Madame Butterfly

Husband departed / To America in Spring / Only grief remains

Excellent choice. The haiku structure emerges directly from the source material, and while it’s not a particularly showy or gaggy #operaplot, it’s very effective.

Oliver JMC – Don Giovanni

By some miracle, he didn’t experience any burning sensations until after the 1003rd.

Again, a great gag. Nice double entendre with burning sensation and an internal reference to the 1003 lyric.

Prima la musica – Madama Butterfly

Amatory lepidopterist traps fragile specimen among Nagasaki cherry blossoms. Fumbling to release her, he crushes her instead.

Such a beautiful image. Poetic, evocative, succinct. Really well done.

12 Responses to How to write an #operaplot

  1. Chickenfeet2003 says:

    “Batter my ears three noted score” was Dr. Atomic

  2. Dale Matt says:

    Brilliant!

  3. Irene Vartanoff says:

    Irene Varatanoff (to my knowledge) does not exist, and this entry is not one of the 25 I submitted under my correctly spelled name. But the entry is very good, so whoever wrote it, congrats.

    • Brian Rosen says:

      Ah. You’re right. I copied that off of the OM summary, but searching the twitter archives shows that its actually RalphGraves’ submission. Thanks for letting me know!

  4. Brian/MvsT: This is a fabulous collection and assessment! Thank you! I love being defined a lyric…but, you see, I’m really a dramatic coloratura trapped in a lyric’s body! 😉 😉

    You too have proved that the body of strong entries is quite large… 30 or so, me thinks. Honestly, I think J.K. should just set up a pin-the-tail-on-the-entry to pick the top 7, it’s so subjective this year.

    San Francisco, eh? Perhaps our paths will cross one of these days.

    Enjoy my “Best of…” here:
    http://jumpingclappingman.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/jcms-best-of-operaplot/

    • Brian Rosen says:

      Yah. I have my favorites, but it will all depend on his sensibilities.

      I’m sure our paths will cross. I’d venture that we have several facebook friends in common. And if the ROTL prod of Into the Woods you were in was the one with Maggie as Cinderella (as far as I know, the only one they’ve done), I’ve seen you on stage.

      • NO WAY! That was indeed the production, and Maggie was my Cindy. TOO FUNNY! (Is she a friend?)

        That was in the earlier beginnings of ROLT. They just won 6 BATCC Awards…they’ve come a long way!

        Take care!

        • Brian Rosen says:

          Yep. Maggie’s a good friend. We’ve been in several shows/operas together. She’s played my wife at least once. She’s actually the main reason I saw that production (I had just finished music directing her in A Little Night Music.) I’ve heard great things about ROLT these days. Lots of friends in their productions. I would have LOVED to do Jerry Springer this time around, but I’ve got prior commitments. 🙁

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