[UPDATE: 2010 entires added below.]
There's nothing worse than someone explaining a joke, so there's probably nothing worse than this post. Oh well. I figure I've put a lot of could've-been-blogging energy into Twittering opera plots, and most of them have inside jokes that will make no sense if you don't know the operas; I thought I might as well construct a little guide to these plots, so that they might seem less random, even if I end up seeming more self-obsessed. It goes on for awhile, so I've dumped most of the text off the main page.
OK, here are my plots so far.
From Round 1 (Technically, these three Round 1 plots break the rules because, not having understood how Twitter worked, I limited myself to 140 characters, not realizing that 10 characters needed to be saved for the tag, #operaplot. However, I take a perverse sort of pride in noting that each of these is exactly 140 characters, and in some ways, each is more satisfying than any of the 130-character ones I've done, which either means 10 characters make a lot of difference, or I'm just getting worse as I go along. Or both.)
The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart): Count wishes he Susanna had; his wife is sad, his servant mad, a mezzo plays a lusty lad. Switcheroo exposes cad, finale he admits he's bad.
[This one's pretty straightforward, my favorite part being the reference to the hormone-raging pageboy Cherubino, one of the most famous 'pants roles' in opera, he being sung by a woman. It also recalls the Countess/Susanna identity-swap that leaves the Count redhanded. I like this one because it actually covers a lot of plot points. Of course, those extra 10 characters really help.]Albert Herring (Britten): Queen of May? Girls today! So, be daring; Crown Al Herring. He's afraid; lemonade makes him braver. Misbehavior! Doesn't die. Makes Mum cry
[Again, this actually covers a lot of what happens in the small-town story of an innocent young man who's voted in as "May King" when the self-righteous town leaders can't find a girl who's virtuous enough. Albert's lemonade gets spiked, he goes out on an off-stage bender that has the town fearing he's dead; instead, he just finally gets around to telling his Mum off.]Susanna (Floyd): Susannah bathes, the Elders see, and blame her; Blitch says fervently, "Repent," but sins against her, so he's killed by her protective bro.
[I think it's obvious, but this has a strict 8-8-8-8 meter that might get lost when written prose style. Again, it summarizes the basic story pretty decently, something which it turns out a lot of the operaplots don't really try to do - which is fine, by the way, since people have come up with all sorts of creative ways to approach the challenge. At this stage, I was focused on getting as much plot in as possible.]ROUND 2
Don Giovanni (Mozart): Cad kills Commendatore. Conquests cataloged, courts country cutie. Cry creates chaos. Cast Commendatore comeback cues comeuppance
[This captures several memorable moments. The murder that opens the opera, as Giovanni kills the father of a girl he'd been seducing; the famous "catalogue aria" in which Giovanni's servant enumerates his bosses successes with ladies from country to country; the famous seduction duet in which Giovanni puts the moves on Zerlina, a commoner who's supposed to be marrying someone else; the scream that Zerlina delivers offstage during a ball scene, when it becomes evident Giovanni has gone too far; and the famous return of the Stone Guest. In retrospect, I probably should've left out the word 'cast' since I suppose that refers more to a bronze statue than a stone one, but the alliteration had me carried away.]La bohème (Puccini): 4 Bohemians: Performer sings for supper. Poet authors romance. Painter brushes with ex. Philosopher thinks coat sale. (Girl dies)
[My first effort to avoid rhyming, but I still like a patterned structure. This operaplot chooses to focus more on the four artists who are central to the original novel, rather than the two couples who dominate the opera. Perhaps it was an odd choice to put Schaunard the musician first, since the poet (Rodolfo) and painter (Marcello) are clearly more important, but this is closer to how things happen chronologically. I don't know that Schaunard literally sings during his gig that he tries to describe to his uninterested friends, but the money he makes playing for a dying bird is what finances the Act II night on the town for everyone. Obviously, Rodolfo's affair with Mimi is the central story in the opera, and Marcello's hot-blooded on-again, off-again relationship with Musetta is important as well. Colline, the philosopher, is best remembered for the moving Act IV aria in which he decides to sell his coat to help care for the dying Mimi. Not thrilled about how I ended this one - trying to suggest something of the generic-ness of the ending.]The Mikado (Gilbert & Sullivan): Someone must die. Tenor, denied soprano, steps up. Executioner can't hack it, gives up soprano; skirts death by wooing contralto.
[A little surprised there's been so little G&S in operaplot; in fact, I'm not sure there've been any others but this. Yeah, it's an operetta, but still. My favorite line here recalls how Koko, the ridiculously placed Lord High Executioner, can't bring himself to chop off the willing Nanki-poo's head; this puts poor Koko in the position of having to woo the terrifying Katisha with the famous "Tit-willow" song.]Next, I resubmitted the Figaro and Susannah ones from above (Herring ineligible because it won a prize first time around). Each suffers from the shortening; kind of wish I hadn't resubmitted them.
Count wishes he Susanna had; wife=sad, servant=mad, a mezzo plays a lusty lad. Switcheroo exposes cad, finale he admits he's bad.
Susannah bathes, Elders see, blame her; Blitch says fervently Repent, but sins against her, so he's killed by her protective bro.
The Doctor in Spite of Himself (Gounod): Lumberjack still beating his wife. She ID's him as doctor who must be beaten to practice. Thus thrashed, he's hailed as a genius.
[This one's not very good; not poetic, not clever, just a blatant effort to promote my little performing edition of this operetta. Speaking of which, if you're looking for a good show...]Gianna Schicchi (Puccini): Dante writes that Gianni Schicchi robs a clan by being sneaky. He wills himself a big estate; his daughter's song is also great.
[I like the reminder here that Puccini's little one-act comic masterpiece is inspired by a few lines from Dante. I also like the reminder that Lauretta's little aria, "O mio babbino caro" is much more famous and well-known than the opera.]Candide (Bernstein): Life is happiness, Candide; Cunegonde's all you need. She'll get raped & die a bit, but survive & gaily glit. Enough? Grow stuff.
[Again, an operetta, not an opera, but definitely part of the opera world. The shows opens with a quartet, "Life is Happiness Indeed" which is recalled here. This also makes a vague reference to my favorite-ever duet title, "You Were Dead You Know"; Cunegonde's famous jewel song, "Glitter and Be Gay"; and the surprisingly uplifting finale, "Make Our Garden Grow."]Peter Grimes (Britten): How's the fishing? Not good 4 Grimes (worse for his help). He wants 2 marry Ellen, but ends up with a better character: the Sea.
[I cringe a little at the substitutions of numbers for words, and this tendency only gets worse in operaplots that follow. Grimes has been one of the more popular operaplot topics. Aside from referring to the unfortunate fates of the odd fisherman's apprentices, this makes the point that possibly the strongest character in the opera is the imposing Sea, for which Britten crafted four unforgettable interludes. And, yeah, Peter ends up sleeping with the fishes.]The Daughter of the Regiment (Donizetti): Marie is a French GI Jane/Mom says the girl is insane/2 fall 4 the tenor/but he's sure 2 win 'er/He sings 9 hi C's with no strain!
[A limerick challenge had been thrown down on Twitter, so here we go. It looks ugly, but it gets the job done. It bothers me not to have had room for a "her Mom" to make the metrical pattern more consistent. Anyway, aside from the pleasing "GI Jane" formulation, this operaplot reminds us that this opera is easily best known for Tonio's aria in which he pops out 9 high C's.]The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart): 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!
[If any opera deserves two attempts, it's this one. Here, we look at things from Figaro's point-of-view, with references to the Count's interest in Susanna, Marcellina's legal claim on Figaro's hand in marriage, Cherubino's hormonal annoyingness, Figaro's harebrained schemes (a fake letter sent to the Count to make him jealous, and a plan to dress Cherubino as Susanna in order to trick the Count), and the surprising discovery that the old bag is Figaro's mother. (Gotta love the phrase "find mom in bag.")]The Abduction from the Seraglio (Mozart): A prince's fiancé is kept w/in a harem so expect 2 see him try 2 re-collect her, posing as an architect. Joseph votes:2many notes
[AnotherThe Tender Land (Copland): Her HS days done, tender Laurie/is doing a life inventory/when Martin and Top/just happen to stop/and inevitably alter her story.
rhyming one. Yeah, it looks hideous, and it's not easy to find how the lines scan. The trick is, you have to say "fiancé " with three syllables and a final stress. Then the rhymes fall into place. As I mentioned on Twitter, I can never think of Belmonte going undercover as an architect without thinking of George Costanza, who always wanted to pretend to be an architect. Anyway, Emperor Joseph II famously declared that this opera was ingeniously written, but simply had "too many notes."]
[Here we recall "Laurie's Song" that opens the opera, with the girl pondering her post-grad future. Yeah, I abbreviated High School, but otherwise I'm please that this is written in fairly normal English. It's a pretty decent limerick. Not as good as this one, though.]The Old Maid and the Thief (Menotti): Ms Todd & Laetitia r silly/as women can b, as they really/think each has a chance/with Bob & his pants/arousing an aria, STEAL ME.#
[I kind of enjoy the not-quite-rhymes of "silly/really/Steal Me." As with the Gianna Schicchi and Daughter of the Regiment plots, the point here is that this opera is best known for a single aria, Laetitia's highly-charged "Steal Me, Sweet Thief," a scene that begins with her ironing Bob's pants - perhaps the very pants that Miss Todd and Laetitia almost remove from the mysterious drifter when they're trying to help him out of his rain-soaked clothes.]
[scroll up for 2009 operaplots.]
2010 - Uh-oh, the contest came back again in April of 2010. (Wow, that rhymed, and I didn't even intend it. Disturbing.) At first I thought I'd just be re-entering non-winning entries from last year (coincidentally, all of my entries were non-winning!), but pretty soon new ones started hatching. For what it's worth, here they are:
The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart): Count thinks "maid is made for me," but doesn't count on trickery of servant who serves up disguises; mezzo really one of guys is.
[This began as a reworking of my "Count wishes he Susanna had" from above. (I never managed to make that work right within the 130 characters required by addition of the #operaplot hashtag.) Pretty straightforward, with plays on maid/made, Count/count, servant/serves, disguises/guys is. OK, maybe the last one's a bit forced but, yeah, Cherubino is a teenage pageboy sung by a mezzo-soprano, and he is at one point disguised as one of the girls.]
Tristan und Isolde (Wagner): The first chord puts tonality on notice. The ending lets Isolde Liebestod us.
[I think this is my favorite from this year. Somehow, among all the "lengthy" 100+character plots that get submitted, the even shorter ones tend to stand out. When I teach this piece in my music appreciation class, we focus on 1) how the famous "Tristan chord" in the Prelude exhibits a kind of harmonic ambiguity that, perhaps, eventually leads to atonality AND 2) the monumental final "Liebestod (Love-Death)" scene, in which Isolde sings about how her love for Tristan will be fulfilled in death. These are, after all, the bookends of the opera, so they make a nice, tidy way to summarize it.]
Hänsel und Gretel (Humperdinck): Mom cries over spilt milk, sends kids into the woods. They pray for safety, but where are those 14 angels when the witch shows up?
[The kids are playing, Mom gets mad, a jug spills and breaks and the story's set in motion. Of course, the most famous moment in the opera is the Evening Prayer, but it seems the fourteen angels only work the night shift.]
Hänsel und Gretel (Humperdinck): In2 the woods we hav 2 go/Our ma is really mad u know/Somebody call 2 DSS & get us an attorney/In2 the woods 2 GINGERbread house!
[The first manifestation of my new 2010 fixation - reworking existing song lyrics. If you don't know this tune, go here.]
The Magic Flute (Mozart): Pamina! I just saw a pic of Pamina. Her mom's a crazy dame & sent it in a frame to me. Pamina! I just dissed a girl named Pamina..
[My first reworking of "Maria" from "West Side Story." Pic is perhaps not the most singable of words, but this does play on the fact that Tamino sings his famous aria, "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön (This image is enchantingly lovely)" right after being handed Pamina's portrait. This one's maybe a little confusing because it suddenly jumps ahead to the moment in Act II when Prince Tamino is not allowed to speak to Pamina, thus temporarily breaking her heart. I just liked how "dissed" play off the "kissed" from Sondheim's original lyrics.]
La bohème (Puccini): Performer fiddles w/bird~Poet authors romance~Painter brushes w/ex~Philosopher thinks coat sale. Siren scoffs~Seamstress coughs.
[This is a significant re-working of one from 2009, and probably a good example of me trying to do too much and be too cute; but it actually describes all 6 main characters, which is pretty good for only 130 text characters. I like the alliterative descriptions of the four artists, even if "Performer" seems a bit forced for Schaunard. New this year is play on "fiddles," since Schaunard not only plays his violin for a dying parrot, but he intentionally poisons the bird so that the gig will end and he can go home. At first I worried that "Siren" wasn't the best word choice for Musetta - only remembered after I'd already posted it that Marcello first greets his old flame as "Sirena!"]
The Magic Flute (Mozart): 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
Otello (Verdi): You must remember this, a kiss is still is a kiss: Act I, in bed we lie! Act IV, before & after I . . . see that you die.
[Again with the song rewrites. When I talked about "Otello" in a big arts lecture class this year, I focused on how the gorgeous "kiss" motif from the big Act I love duet is twice reprised in Act IV - first, just before Otello kills his wife, and then after he's realized his mistake and mortally wounded himself. Unfortunately, although the meter scans OK, these words don't sing very well, so I did a fix below.]
The Elixir of Love (Donizetti): Adina! I'll soon get a girl named Adina/Altho she says I'm lame/Elixir fixed the game for me/Adina! She just misted una furtiva!
[My second rewrite of "Maria" and my 3rd Sondheim homage. This works really well. Maybe I should've let well enough alone and left out the last line; but I couldn't resist the reference to Nemorino's famous aria, "Una furtiva lagrima," in which he reacts to the sight of Adina's single, furtive tear that proves she loves him. Unfortunately, although "misted up" is a common enough phrase, I'm not sure "misted" works quite right on its own.]
Albert Herring (Britten): Albert ruminates, drinks rumonade, becomes runaway, runs Mum away.
[Again, I really end up being proud of the short ones. The key here was the use of the term "rumonade" to describe the rum-spiked lemonade that sets the previously timid Albert off on his coming-of-age night out. After "The Marriage of Figaro," this is maybe my favorite opera. By the way, I think this 2009 "Albert Herring" is my best ever operaplot: it came before I understood that I needed to save 10 characters for the #operaplot hashtag, and those extra 10 characters really helped with plot exposition. It won honorable mention in the very first operaplot contest.]
The Elixir of Love (Donizetti): 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.
[So, yeah, once I started thinking about Nemorino's reacting to Adina's tear, this one just kind of happened. The words don't flow very poetically, but neither do the original lyrics from "Evita." Tim Rice, you're no Stephen Sondheim! But, then, neither am I. The "sarge phase" refers to Adina's infatuation with the pompous Sgt. Belcore. He's also the one who convinces Nemorino to join the army, since Nemorino needs money to buy more "love potion."]
Otello (Verdi): You must remember this. A kiss is still a kiss: "un bacio" in duet; "ancora'un bacio" while upset; then with regret.
[Finally, I did this little rewrite. Of course, it doesn't work if you don't know the opera, or at least some Italian. When that wonderful kiss motif first appears, Otello sings "Un bacio (one kiss)" and "ancora un bacio (another kiss)." In this cases, the other kisses refer to the Act IV events described above. I like this one because it fits the "As Time Goes By" tune quite well - even the "regret" idea is nicely mirrored in the melody.]
...I also re-entered most of the 2009 ones listed above (except for Mikado and The Doctor in Spite of Himself) AND I entered three operaplot palindromes (!) I devised not long after last year's contest ended:
Dido and Aeneas (Puccini): O, Dido! (He's Aeneas, eh?) O, Dido!
Lulu (Berg): Lo, Lulu. LOL!
Semele (Handel): Ha, is Semele Messiah? #palindrome (Because, you know, Handel tried to pass this off as an oratorio...)
So, that's it, my operaplots for 2010.