An ode* to live streams

I set my alarm for 7.55am Sunday morning. When it chirps in my ear, I blearily reach for the snooze button. Come on; it’s the weekend! I catch myself just in time and grab my laptop—plugged in and waiting at the side of my bed—instead. Some quick navigation, and STAATSOPER.TV dominates the screen. Twitter lurks in a background tab.

It lacks the glamor of the opera house, but watching live streams from home is comfy. And free.

After a few minutes of audience members coughing and instrumentalists tuning, the overture begins. It sounds wonderful, even through my cheap earbuds. That is, the parts of it I can hear. I lose a few seconds from each minute due to bad connection. I drowsily wonder why my expensive “high-speed” internet is insufficient for uninterrupted streaming. If I can’t view this correctly in my well-wired San Francisco apartment, who can? A glance at the Twitter tab shows that others are struggling, too. One tweeter suggests watching the mobile stream instead, even on my laptop. I switch over—still not perfect, but much better.

Here comes the singing. I was certain I had chosen English subtitles, but no text appears on the bottom of the screen. I fiddle around with various buttons and refreshes until it’s working, no doubt missing a few glorious notes in the process. Ah, well, there will be four hours of those.

Now that’s a great dress. Joyce DiDonate in Semiramide; photo from the Bayerische Staatsoper

I curl up and take in the beautiful sound and bizarre sights. This is streaming from Munich, after all, so it’s classic Regietheater (“Eurotrash,” to those of you less favorably disposed towards it). It’s all absurd, but it offers plenty to think about—and plenty to tweet about. Others online point out references to Trump, analyze the cultural inspiration for the costumes, and help me keep track of the confusing plot. But the most fun part of tweeting along is simply sharing our enthusiasm. We get very excited when two mezzos own their duet, when the baritone chews up the scenery, and when the star emerges in a particularly fabulous ensemble. We also love poking fun at the inevitable typos in the English subtitles.

Intermission: a chance to grab breakfast and throw on some clothes. I spend the rest of the stream doing quiet chores around the house. Yes tidying and sweeping, no vacuuming—I need to get this done but can’t bear to cover the music. Every couple minutes I put down my broom to check the tweet feed. It’s the perfect morning: productive, social, and operatic.

It’s not the same as watching in the opera house, of course. It can’t even compare. There is nothing like the live experience of opera. But it’s fun in different ways. It allows me to be snarky or perceptive in the moment. I expand my understanding of the piece and the staging by reading what others think. It brings together the geographically dispersed opera Twitter community around an event that gets us all online and interacting at the same time. And it doesn’t even prevent me from finishing my chores. Now if only I didn’t have to wake up so early…

* No, this is not actually an ode. Trust me, you don’t want me writing poetry.