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The first opera hit the stage over 400 years ago. More recently, the art form has been adapted to modern media: In the 1920s and '30s, operas were written to be performed on the radio, and in 1951, NBC commissioned Gian Carlo Menotti to compose Amahl And The Night Visitors for television.
Now, a company called Rainy Park Opera is creating operas for the internet.
The project started over a beer. On one stool: Adam Taylor, a young filmmaker based in Los Angeles. On the other: Scott Joiner, an opera singer working on his doctorate at the Manhattan School of Music.
"We had both semi-recently come out of long relationships, and we had both discovered, in our 30s, this dating app [Tinder]," Joiner says. "[It] makes dating so different from when we first started dating, before the millennium."
Joiner composed the music for and sings the lead in "Connection Lost: The Tinder Opera," an opera about a young man trying to connect through Tinder and failing. His character goes from scene to scene around New York, phone in front of him — just like all the women he finds.
Taylor, who directed and wrote the screenplay, says that the entire 11-minute soundtrack was recorded first, and the video was shot to fit. That turned out to be very handy for the singers.
"They're holding the phone in the shots, mimicking the Tinder app, and at the same time, the playback is coming through their phone, so they're holding it right by their face, they're able to lip-sync it," Taylor says. "Then we edit the film and we place the original recorded tracks over the lip-syncing, and put it together that way."
Heidi Waleson, the opera critic for The Wall Street Journal, says it "felt very millennial."
"It just puts opera in a different medium," she says. "And since that medium is something that so many people participate in, then why not have opera as a — you know — integral part of that medium?"
"The Tinder Opera" is scored for 10 female singers, two male singers, a pair of pianos and a string quartet. Everyone volunteered their services, so the entire budget was just $2,000. After the opera debuted last April on YouTube, a backer offered to pay for a sequel. With a cast dominated by women, Taylor immediately thought of The Bachelor.
"'The Tinder Opera' sort of talked about how the phone has devolved our ability to interact on a relationship level," Taylor says. "The television — or, more specifically, a show like The Bachelor — has sort of destroyed this idea of marriage, where, you know, two people can meet on a television show, and on the last episode they get married."
Much to Joiner and Taylor's surprise, Opera Carolina in Charlotte, N.C., staged "The Tinder Opera" this past fall. Next season, they're doing it again as a double bill with the sequel: "The Bachelor Opera."
"The operas that were written for television didn't mean that you never saw it in the theater again," Waleson explains. "The operas that were written for radio didn't mean you never saw it in the theater again. So, you know, the operas that are purely online — it's the same thing!"
A month after "The Tinder Opera" debuted online, the New York-based ensemble Experiments in Opera premiered five video works in a theater. And later this spring, a West Coast project called Vireo will release an episodic opera online and on public television. Scott Joiner is thrilled by the activity.
"We're all trying to integrate this old singing art form with a new visual film, television medium," Joiner says. "But the results of the few people doing it are wildly different."
Joiner and Taylor's next work will be ... what else? "L'Opera di Facebook."