Helen Porter is writing an opera. The libretto is being supplied by random tweets from all over the world, and Porter is setting them to music.
Opera libretti – and this has been on my mind recently, because I’m writing one – are not long. They run to about 5000-12000 words, depending on stage directions and so forth. And of course, the words don’t necessarily correspond to running time, because three syllables may take anywhere from a second to half an evening to sing. That said, some stats:
Mozart’s Le Nozze de Figaro, libretto by Da Ponte, runs for a little over three hours, and has approximately 72 000 characters in the libretto. That’s slightly more than 500 tweets, assuming everyone approaches the 140 character maximum.
Richard Strauss, Salome: quite short, only 1 hour 50 mins or so, and about 32 000 characters in the libretto. That’s 230ish tweets.
A chamber-sized work, like Britten’s The Turn Of The Screw, with 35 000 characters? About the same running time as Salome, and about 250 tweets.
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde? Five stinkin’ hours for its 68 ooo or so characters (485 or so tweets). See, you can really stretch those words out.
Now the Royal Opera House is billing this as “the people’s opera”, because anyone can contribute, but it seems to me the most people-friendly option would be a comedy, like Figaro, with lots of words, and therefore the maximum number of contributing tweeters, and a manageable running time.
Also, it’s a shame that you can see what’s already being set to music, because it would be so much more fun if you were tweeting in the dark. As it is, the piece is already travelling a well-trodden forest path with magic potions and people talking to birds.
Oh, well. I might start sending in my libretto, 140 characters at a time, and get Helen Porter (incidentally, Nellie Melba’s real name was Helen Porter) to set it for me. But I’ve been worrying myself silly about things like structure and character. I’m an idiot.