Strunk & White: The Opera

Status: Real
Most people, I assume, are aware of Strunk & White's Elements of Style. It's hard to get through high school without being exposed to it. Now, at long last, that classic grammar and style guide has been put to music. Composer Nico Muhly created an operatic song cycle based on the book. He calls it "The Elements of Style: Nine Songs," and it was performed last month at the New York Public Library. When I first heard about this I thought it was some kind of early April Fool's Day joke. But no. It's quite real. The songs have titles such as "Be Obscure Clearly!", "Overly Over," and "Hyphens." A Newsweek reviewer who attended the event wrote that:

Unfortunately, the operatic style of the piece rendered the lyrics all but unintelligible to this listener—in ironic contrast to the simplifying ethos of "Elements"—though that may be more the fault of the acoustics of the library venue, which was, after all, designed for silence.

Maybe Muhly can make a name for himself by putting all kinds of different reference works to music. What about Oxford English Dictionary: The Musical, or Love Songs Inspired by Roget's Thesaurus?


Posted on Thu Nov 03, 2005


This is Philip Glass territory, although I suspect that an opera about Strunk and White - the people, rather than their books - might have been more successful. It could have been a fantasy epic modelled on "Star Wars", with Boswell as their Obi-Wan Kenobi and H. W. Fowler as Moff Tarkin. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (of "It was a dark and stormy night" fame) would be Darth Vader. And William McGonagall would be Yoda, because neither him nor Yoda at English were any good they were.

I'm sure someone did an opera, or a song cycle or something based on Britain's Labour party's 1997 election manifesto, or something similar. I could be wrong.
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Thu Nov 03, 2005  at  03:18 PM
I once posted about Fight Club: The Musical

I think there's also been a musical version of Men Are from Mars, Woman Are from Venus. It had a brief run in Vegas.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu Nov 03, 2005  at  03:41 PM
This is the most brilliant thing I have ever heard of! Unfortunately I can't get the video to work. I wonder if it will be playing anywhere else? I would definitely pay to see this.
Posted by Razela  on  Thu Nov 03, 2005  at  07:31 PM
I'm sorry, I have to comment again because this is just so...well...brilliant! I love the elements of style book. All the examples were so funny. So happy to see it get the recognition it deserves, and in such an off beat way as well!
Posted by Razela  on  Thu Nov 03, 2005  at  07:42 PM
This story was reported on NPR this week, together with the news that a new, illustrated edition of Elements of Style is being published. I can't wait to see the illustrations!
Posted by Big Gary, retreating faster  on  Fri Nov 04, 2005  at  11:17 AM
"Maybe Muhly can make a name for himself by putting all kinds of different reference works to music."

The logarithmic tables would be perfect for this.
Posted by Big Gary in Utopia  on  Fri Nov 04, 2005  at  04:26 PM
Logarithmic tables -- done by a Taiko ensemble, perhaps?
Posted by cvirtue  on  Sat Nov 05, 2005  at  06:03 PM
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