Singing Flat

Bert Menninga
Jul 5, 2013 · 3 min read

I wouldn’t describe myself as an early adopter. Oh, I’ve been on the cusp a few times – in the early 1990s I was part of a peculiar “bulletin board”(!) called Phlogistician’s Corner in the days when the Internet wasn’t quite ubiquitous yet. And I started blogging in 2001.

But when I heard that Vine was about to be launched, I was hooked. Yes, I will be an early adopter with this six-second video Twitterish channel!

Not content to do things the simple way, I started pondering: How can you make a six-second video exciting?

My first thought was to create a sitcom with six-second episodes. But what with a lack of actors or suitable sets, not to mention the time and money it would take to produce a sitcom that seemed, well, pretty insurmountable. Not to mention my total lack of experience.

So I regrouped.

How about instead of actors and sets, do each episode as a series of text messages? And instead of a sitcom with episodes, wouldn’t it be more entertaining to reduce an entire play – say, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – to a series of text messages? Or better yet, not just any old plays, Shakespeare!

Wait, wait, wait, I thought. Play to your strengths, man. And go for the comic gold. What has the most ridiculous characters, most improbable plot twists and most, er, operatic emotions? Why, that would be – opera!

So I started making my movies – all it took were a bunch of iPhone text generator screen shots, some photos of the curtain at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm and a few carefully chosen seconds-long music clips.

Voilá, it was Teeny Tiny Opera.

The problem was, of course, that you don’t upload movies to Vine, you actually film them with your phone (although I’m sure plenty of other people might be able to hack Vine to upload movies, I am not one of those people). So I filmed my films, which looked like crap. And no one really watched them, even though I got a plug on Swedish public radio’s Facebook page via a friend.

So I took yet another tack. I put the videos up on YouTube on their own channel and tried to Tweet my way to attention, following opera singers left and right, retweeting the sage words of opera critics and replying to the (sometimes awfully generic) question Tweets that social media directors at the world’s major opera houses write. I cleverly promoted my Teeny Tiny versions of Romeo and Juliet, Cosí fan Tutte, Siegfried.

And I’ve gotten, ahem, a little over 1,000 views.

I know I shouldn’t have given up after only six weeks and 23 very short videos. I was on my way to creating a kind of comic video cliff notes history of opera. But at 52, I don’t have the stamina I did at 42 or 32. I guess I was just doing it for the attention after all.

And really, what did I expect? Even if I still laugh out loud when I watch some of the videos, who was I kidding? The only people who might find them funny are people who are really, really into opera. And people who are really, really into opera are notorious for having no sense of humor whatsoever. And they’re all over 75 and have no Internet connections.

There isn’t really any lesson here. It’s really just a story about an idea, a great idea actually, that never took off because, really, it’s only a great idea to me.

    Bert Menninga

    Written by

    American editor in Stockholm working for the media company Bonnier (my tweets are my own opinions and not Bonnier's. Just so you know.)

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade