It is being billed as the world’s first “TikTopera” – a collaboration between the English National Opera and Netflix – based on hit documentary series Tiger King, created entirely on TikTok ahead of the second series this week.
The production lives entirely on the social media app and features TikTok superstars cast in the lead roles, including Sophia Aurora, Hellovicco and Hannah Lother, as well as X-Factor finalists Max and Harvey and Britain’s Got Talent comedian Phil Green.
Each recap a portion of the Tiger King story, including the battle between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. This is set to the music of George Bizet’s 1875 masterpiece Carmen, performed live in London by ENO’s 40-person professional chorus and full string orchestra.
Stuart Murphy, chief executive of ENO, said the company had “pulled out all the stops” to bring to life one of Netflix’s most watched shows and a “modern-day mythic drama”.
“Opera is an art form that deals best with epic themes – rival worlds, passionate love, carnal lusts and monstrous betrayal,” he said. “In many ways, it’s the art form that this story was made for.”
The project, Murphy said, “spoke to our key value of trying to take opera out to everyone. On Friday, we’ve got five hours of Wagner on the Colosseum stage, for the proper aficionados. It felt right to do this at the other end of the extreme, to make opera as accessible as possible to everyone.”
Accessibility has long been important to Murphy. Earlier in his career, he launched BBC Three because he was “passionate about getting public service content to people who generally reject the BBC”, as well as Sky Atlantic because “epic world class TV should be part and parcel of our TV consumption.”
Since joining the ENO, he’s introduced a string of initiatives to try to get young people through the doors, including free tickets for under-21s (which has reduced the average age of attendees from 67 to 59) and putting on “a drive-in production” of La bohème that featured a remix by Stormzy producer Mikey J.
The ENO’s latest move is part of a wider trend that sees major organisations turning to TikTok to welcome new, and particularly younger audiences. The platform – full of in-jokes, dance rituals and memes – is most popular among the under-25s and can turn relatively unknown songs or artists into viral sensations. Sea shanty TikTok star Nathan Evans signed a record deal with Universal, a multilingual love song by little-known Somali singer Nimco Happy was given an official release and shared by the likes of Bella Hadid and Cardi B.
“It’s really important for us that we’re part of the kind of national conversation so we’re not seen as a kind of hermetically sealed art form,” Murphy said. “Netflix dictates that conversation on a global scale, you just look at how the world stopped and took notice of Squid Game or the Crown. And TikTok is like a popcorn machine that can throw up a million narratives every second and hour.”
Opera, he added, can speak to all ages. “What’s really timeless is people’s yearning to tell stories, listen to stories and get inside worlds. Shows like The Chestnut Man or Making a Murderer are all brilliantly told stories. We’re in a similar Venn diagram. And actually, when people turn up they’re like ‘Wow, I didn’t realise it was that epic.’”
Max and Harvey, who have 6.4 million followers on TikTok, said they’d watched Tiger King twice over lockdown so working on the TikTopera had been an “amazing” experience. “We’ve enjoyed learning more about opera and hearing 40 people singing with a full orchestra is unreal,” they added. “We’d love to go and see one.”