Emoticons are for Lightweights: Opera in Less than 140 Characters

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Chances are the following has happened to you at least once: You bring a colleague, friend or date to the opera and, just as the house lights dim, they turn to you and ask, “so what’s this about?” In that sense, a quick sentence or two to describe La Bohème or La Traviata is daunting enough—“But what about the muff?“ “How do I work in the Baron Duphol?”—let alone summarizing something like Le Nozze di Figaro or Tannhaüser.

But if necessity is indeed the mother of invention, Twitter is the baby-daddy of #operaplot, a three-year running meme that Anne Midgette best describes as “not so much a contest as an international parlor game.” Using less than the standard 140 characters (in order to factor in the ten-character hash tag), participants from around the globe have distilled most of the operatic canon succinctly and with a generous dose of pith. Even Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle is no match for the constraints of social networking, as has been proven several times over in past #operaplots. (One favorite: “So there’s this ring of ultimate power. Awesome! Oh wait, it’s terrible and ruins everything. Sucks!” from past #operaplot winner @funwithiago.)

Canadian journalist and blogger Marcia Adair, known on Twitter as @missmussel in a nod to Strauss’s Aegyptische Helena, has curated the contest logistics of #operaplot, though once she opens the gates it is swiftly taken over by the general Twitter populace, generally for one week. The most recent contest launched today and runs through Friday the 15th. A list of past guest judges that includes soprano Danielle de Niese and tenor Jonas Kaufmann; this round will be overseen by bass-baritone Eric Owens who, as he describes in the video below, is looking for a dose of humor in this year’s submissions.

And, as with any contest, there are prizes to be had. In #operaplots past, they included tickets to the Washington National Opera and its annual Opera Ball (the winner of this round, Stephen Llewellyn, donated the package to DC-area music educator Priscilla Barrow in a fairy-tale twist). Other prizes have included a trip to Dublin for an Opera Theater Company production. Comparably, this year’s offerings are a bit tamer: There is a “Musical Memphis” package courtesy of Opera Memphis that consists of one pair of season tickets, one night in the Peabody Hotel and two tickets to both Graceland and Sun Studios. There are also tickets to be had across Canada, the United States, Australia and the UK, plus a trio of CDs and DVDs from EMI.

But the prizes aren’t really the point of #operaplot. The real fun is the means to the end, winnowing down Verdi's epic La Forza del Destino into “Misfiring gun does wonders for monastery tourism, not so much for Calatrava family” (again, courtesy of @funwithiago) or condensing Mozart and Da Ponte’s twists and turns into “Test your girl's troth by enticing her to cheat? How's that workin' for ya?” (via @taminophile). Join in on Twitter with your own, or figure out which three operas are represented below in some of the latest entrants.

“Teen w/ stepdaddy issues & pervy impulses dances for dad, lays first kiss on disembodied head of prophet. Prom will be a let-down” (@musicbizkid)

“He's gay? Meh, not so much. He's a child killer? Meh, not so much. He's an outcast? Sure, I'll give you that one.” (@megoceleste)

“I lived for art. I lived for love. I'm also reasonably good with a dinner knife.” (@chriscorrelli)