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How to Provoke Me to Homicide

July 3rd, 2010 · 18 Comments

Wired’s Dylan Tweney recounts his live-tweeting of Wagner’s Die Walküre at the San Francisco Opera. I cannot fathom how he escaped the opera house alive. Look, fussing with your phone constantly—even on “minimum brightness”—is kind of a dick move at any performance, but it’s borderline sacrilegious when it comes to Wagner, whose genius was in creating such an absolutely immersive experience through the fusion of music and drama. Which makes little intrusions from your neighbors that break the spell about a thousand times more grating. There’s a reason they typically don’t do late seating once the doors are closed—at Bayreuth, the doors are actually locked.

This might be a light-thrashing offense if he were putting out some kind of super-incisive commentary on this particular interpretation or the nuances of the performance, but apparently his followers were getting treated to such nuggets of insight as:

Husband is swilling beer & groping his wife while Siegmund tells his life story. It’s a long, sad story. Wed Jun 30 19:31:58 2010

Hunding says: you can stay in my house tonight, but I’ll kill you tomorrow. Wed Jun 30 19:38:49 2010

How’s Siegmund gonna defend himself with no sword?? Wed Jun 30 19:42:58 2010

O hey! There’s a sword stuck in that tree over there! Wed Jun 30 19:44:49 2010

Ok, this is weird: A brother-sister love song. Wed Jun 30 19:54:52 2010

More singing. Lots of trembling with ecstasy, etc Wed Jun 30 19:59:27 2010

Look, dude, the plot of the opera, and the fact that it includes singing, are pretty well established.  They do not require on-the-scene reporting. If, in the third act, Brünnhilde and Wotan ended up talking it out and going to a father-daughter picnic instead of the whole “imprisoned in a ring of flame” denouement, that would’ve been tweetworthy. A summary of the same storyline the opera’s had for the past 140 years of performances? A link to the libretto really would have done the job.

Tags: Art & Culture



18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sara // Jul 3, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Oh I think you are wrong, UNLESS, he was in fact making noise or causing distraction. Which may not have happened.
    Opera and Symphonies generally needs a broader audience. It needs to be popularized. They can no longer afford to take an elitist attitude. A good portion of the folks who watched the tweeting learned something about Opera. That its cool. That maybe it would be worth going to, listening to or at least watch on TV (although I don’t recommend the last one).
    If I were opera companies I would hire someone to tweet the Opera. And I would put them in a place they wouldn’t disturb anyone, hand them a laptop and say go to it.
    And considering the fact that SF Opera is apparently trying to update their Opera, I think they might consider it.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Jul 3, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    I am all for finding ways to get people interested in opera—and the Ring in particular. Want to put a reviewer or a music student or something in the late-arrivals room watching the HD simulcast, or even a box, to offer thoughts on the unfolding performance? Wonderful. But if, as this guy suggests, the ushers looked “cranky,” then his fiddling was noticeable. And in general, even pretty minor distractions tend to detract from the feeling of total immersion that makes it worth ponying up the (for me) not inconsiderable price of a live ticket. I’m just saying, if it were me sitting next to the guy, I’d be pretty pissed.

  • 3 Anthony // Jul 3, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Full agreement with Mr Sanchez. Grossly anti-social. I can well imagine that will have comprehensively knackered the evening for several people. And I really don’t see why five hours of post-modern, clever-clever Tweeting is going to be the vehicle by which opera is transformed into a popular medium. If it is, I think it’s probably fair to say that the cure is worse than the disease. I’m a fairly regular theatre-goer and if one of the people near me was fiddling with his phone throughout the performance it would be ridiculously distracting. Never mind the screen-light levels, a bloke sitting near you who spends the entire performance fiddling with a gadget is a problem. Full stop. You can dress is up however you like, trot out the techno-sociological theory, gush about how people sitting in front of their computers at home were entertained, entranced and enlightened about it. It’s rude, it’s selfish and it’s inconsiderate. That’s all there it to it.

    And as Julian says, if the ushers have become aware of what this bloke is doing and he’s aware that they are aware of it and aren’t happy, that’s a problem. If the ushers know it, the people sitting near you know it. And they’re almost certainly not happy, though they may well be too polite to do anything. If you come out from a five hour performance and you are aware that trying not to get thrown out was an underlying issue, that’s a problem.

    BTW, possibly of interest:


  • 4 patty // Jul 3, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I too, was not happy to read about the tweeting … and yes, I DO find that lit up screen, no matter how small and dimmed, distracting.

    But it’s more than that. It’s about paying attention. It’s about listening, and wrapping one’s self up in the music, and being taken away to another place. How in the world can one do that as he thinks about what silly witty little 140 character sentence he’s going to send off to his multitude of twitter fans? Instead he has, himself, become the performance.

    If people really have to do this, and if halls are going to start to allow it, I really hope they put them in a place where the rest of us won’t have to deal with them. Preferably the same place they should put all the people who douse themselves in perfumes and colognes before they go to a performance.

    Okay. I’ll go away now. Rant over and out.

  • 5 dhex // Jul 3, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    maybe he was dragged to the opera by a spouse and this was his way of sticking it to the wo-man?

    we’ve all been there. (sans twitter because we’re not jerkoffs, i mean)

  • 6 Miguel Sanchez // Jul 3, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    By Wotan, I raised my boy right!!!
    What about execution for the philistine?

  • 7 DivisionByZero // Jul 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I can’t stand that shit at the movies (which is why I don’t go to movies in the theater anymore), nevermind the opera. That’s one sure way to drive the few remaining people that go to operas away form the theater. If anything we should be going the other way, throwing people out of movie theaters for texting (or talking), not inviting them to do so at the opera.

  • 8 Dylan Tweney // Jul 5, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Execution?? Mercy, please!

    Actually I was holding the phone quite low between my knees so I doubt anyone could see it. I was very conscious of my neighbors and did not want to offend them. I enjoy opera, including Wagner too, and did this not to annoy people but as a way of seeing whether we could interest the Wired audience in it.

    Indeed, the opera company’s public relations office, which gave me the tickets, seemed delighted by the stunt.

    One more point: The ushers were not being cranky at me. I was merely emphasizing my fear of them for dramatic effect.

  • 9 DivisionByZero // Jul 5, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I wonder if the publicity people ran it by anyone else?

  • 10 Julian Sanchez // Jul 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Well, I wasn’t there, so I’ll have to take you at your word. I find it a little hard to imagine that someone seated next to me could be firing off tweets from an iPhone every few minutes without driving me crazy—and I doubt I’d risk the experiment unless I were VERY sure of pulling it off. But if you did, I retract my fatwa.

  • 11 John Galt // Jul 6, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Marshall McLuhan commented that “The medium is the message,” which was explained to me that as communication became more widely available, its trustworthiness declined…from information literally chiseled in stone to tabloids.

    Now, with the internet, blogging, and twitter, we’ve reached a “heisenberg uncertainty principle” where we know everything and believe nothing.

  • 12 ayjay // Jul 6, 2010 at 10:42 am

    When a guy who thinks it’s a cool idea to tweet his way through an opera assures us that he wasn’t bothering anyone else . . . well, is that really someone who is likely to have a good grip on how his actions are perceived by others? Rather than take his word for it, I’d prefer to take the word of someone who was seated next to him or behind him.

  • 13 Ed Reid // Jul 6, 2010 at 11:07 am

    John Galt,

    I would suggest, rather, that we have achieved “critical mess”. 🙂

  • 14 ThomasL // Jul 6, 2010 at 11:22 am

    I entirely disagree with the idea of making opera and symphony more accessible.

    People are attracted to institutions that believe in themselves; not that are constantly apologizing for themselves and saying, “It’s not what you think.”

  • 15 ZZMike // Jul 7, 2010 at 12:48 am

    I nominate anyone sitting within 6 feet of this moron for the Peace Prize – for not breaking his neck. Or at the very least, grabbing his phone and tossing it across the theater. (I would have made myself ineligible, on that last count.)

    For some years now, music critics have been attending operas, symphonies, and recitals, and writing their reports up back at the office.

    Earth to Dylan:

    During the movie, during the opera, turn off the damn phone!!!!!

  • 16 Emily // Jul 7, 2010 at 9:45 am

    My boyfriend is regularly glued to his iPhone when we are sitting in the audience of a movie or sporting event. The reason it bothers me is that it interrupts the communal nature of the experience. If he’s on his iPhone, we are no longer sharing the act of watching something, with each other or with the rest of the audience. He is having his own private experience on Facebook, or as he reads an email.

    Ostensibly, Tweney’s tweeting was meant to create a separate communal experience — that of the tweeting audience. But is it worthwhile to create that separate community at the expense of the people in the theater? I conclude that it is not. Since the goal of Tweney’s tweeting was to introduce more people to the experience of opera, it’s counterproductive for him to do so by cheapening the experience of opera.

    It’s probably premature to call for heads to roll, but it’s certainly not too soon to start drawing lines for this kind of behavior. If anything, it’s getting too late.

  • 17 Jeffrey Straszheim // Jul 7, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I don’t go to the opera anymore because of people like him. I enjoy the music very much, and I find that a good performance is a truly transcendent experience. However, these days, there are better than even odds of sitting near a jerk who will ruin it. It isn’t worth the risk.

    Horror story: Madame Butterfly — the couple sitting in front of me were making out most of the performance.

    The ushers should have asked that jerk with his phone to leave.

  • 18 DirtCrashr // Jul 7, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Didn’t Bugs Bunny already, essentially, do the Opera-Twitter thing, as far as Wagner’s Ring goes? But perhaps we could take the advice of Elmer, “Kill the Tweeter, kill the Tweeter…”
    Perhaps the Twitter audience would do better with Mozart than Wagner – the Magic Twittering Flute for instance…