This story is part of a series of 50 stories we are releasing to commemorate 50 years of opera in West Michigan. Browse more stories and follow our journey throughout the season.
In making lunch-break length operas about social media, Rainy Park Opera Co isn’t so much pandering to millennials as shining a skeptical light on tech that’s supposed to be bringing people closer together, and often does the opposite. And they’re using the world’s most popular medium to do it.
For those of us born before the mid-nineties, a glance around any public area can give the impression of living in a sci-fi film. Screens large and small occupy every conceivable space. If you see an idle person watching the clouds or the crowds, it might even be a cause for concern—what well-adjusted adult spends their interstitial moments focused on their immediate surroundings? Certainly, there must be a friend they could text, or a recipe they could look up…
Perhaps our thoroughly digital society makes you want to pull down your blinds and hide. Maybe you just pine for the days of eye contact and incidental conversation with strangers, or at least relegate smartphone usage to situations that don’t include the dinner table, theater, elevator, sidewalk, marriage ceremony, etc. On the other hand, your social and business lives may be immeasurably enriched by our connected world, and you may see the digital age as a new gold rush of opportunity. If you are like most people, however, you are ambivalent. We are living in an technological era defined by alienation and connection in equal measure. This tension is at the center of The Rainy Park Opera Co’s L’Opera di Tinder, both in medium and in message.
L’Opera di Tinder is a quintessentially contemporary story, and as such, you don’t need to go to your local opera house to watch it. You can experience the whole performance—all eleven minutes—right here. Both subject matter and venue are as far from grand opera as can be. L’Opera di Tinder is a bite-sized opera film, designed to be watched online, about a young man’s quest to find a partner using the ultra-popular dating app, Tinder. His travails involve miscommunications, missed connections, misdirection. In other words, it’s a classical comedy, told in song, for the modern age.
The opera was borne out of a real struggle. Adam Taylor and Scott Joiner were both coming down from long relationships and commiserating about the modern dating scene over a friendly beer. This scene plays out all over the world every day, but Adam happens to be a film maker, and Joiner is an opera singer pursuing a doctorate at the Manhattan School of Music. As the two traded gripes and aspirations, an idea was hatched. They founded The Rainy Park Opera Co., set on making short operatic films about the romance in our surreal age.
As Joiner explained in an interview with NPR, “We had both semi-recently come out of long relationships, and we had both discovered, in our 30s, this dating app,” Joiner says. The dating app, of course, is the titular Tinder. “[It] makes dating so different from when we first started dating, before the millennium.”
People in their 30s still vividly recall the pre-Tinder world. For Taylor, being firmly at the core of Manhattan millennial culture has only highlighted the challenges technology can bring to traditional social interactions. “The Tinder Opera sort of talked about how the phone has devolved our ability to interact on a relationship level,” he told NPR. Not long after their Tinder opera, Rainy Park released Something Blue: L’opera del Bachelor. Its subject is none other than the reality show of the same name.
Clearly, Rainy Park Opera Co is not composed of luddites, obviously. (Their next opera is about Facebook, after all.) But in making lunch-break length operas about social media, these creators aren’t so much pandering to millennials as shining a skeptical light on tech that’s supposed to be bringing people closer together, and often does the opposite. And they’re using the world’s most popular medium to do it. Rainy Park is hardly the first company to drag opera into unusual spaces.
“Updating” opera for the modern age is itself an old tradition. In 1925, Geoffrey Toye’s The Red Pen ushered in an era of opera composed specifically for the radio. On Christmas Eve, 1951, Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors brought us the first opera composed for television. And the last decade has seen the British Glyndebourne Festival Opera, among others, offer its entire season for streaming online. Rest assured: the moment we have life size hologram projectors in our living rooms, the world’s first holographic opera will be close behind.
An opera about a dating app may or may not be your thing, but it does capture a crucial aspect of the zeitgeist: tech redefines social norms at a rate that’s uncomfortable to many people. That same technology also gives us new ways to tell stories, make music, and deliver performances to people historically outside the sphere of the theater.
At Opera Grand Rapids, we are very excited to be both stewards of grand opera and at the vanguard of innovation. We plan to stage operas like L’Opera di Tinder in breweries and other unconventional venues in the near future. For our patrons who love the ale house as much as the opera house, this will be a fun departure for an evening’s entertainment. For those unfamiliar with opera’s many shapes, we can’t wait to introduce them to the art form over a brew.
As opera evolves, a new generation of singers and librettists are inspired to leave their mark on a 400-year-old tradition. They will use their vernacular to reflect on concerns unique to their time, as the luminaries of the medium always have. Every time opera evolves, it only cements its timelessness. We are eager to instill our passion for the craft into fresh hearts, and thrill as it finds its place in a hectic, digital world.
OUR FOUNDERS HAD A BOLD PROPOSITION: to build a professional opera company that would put Grand Rapids on the map for a very discerning audience. 50 years later, we are humbled to be the modern bearers of classical standards and modern ingenuity. Learn more.
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