Tonight’s leap second — and the opera about the leap second

The leap second that will make this year, 2016, longer than most people will expect — was the subject of an opera that premiered three months ago, as part of the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, at Harvard University.

The mini-opera is called “The Last Second“. It’s about a plot to secretly add an extra leap second to the world’s clocks, and secretly reap the financial benefits.

Here’s video of the performance — all three acts, each preceded by a scene-setting micro-lecture:

  • micro-lecture 1 (“What’s a leap second, and why do we create them?”)
  • ACT 1
  • micro lecture 2 (“How scientists decide when to create a leap second, and how we do it?”)
  • ACT 2
  • micro-lecture 3 (“The kinds of financial mischief that could be done during an unannounced extra leap second.”)
  • ACT 3 — the Thrilling Conclusion!


We were delighted at the timing of all this. We had already written the opera, and had begun preparing to perform it, BEFORE the scientists who control the world clocks decided to add a leap second to 2016. We invited one of those very scientists to come be part of the show. You can see him delivering the micro lecture that introduced Act 2.

Here are some details about the mini-opera, the performers, and the performance:

  • You can download and read the libretto. It’s part of the printed program that was handed out to each of the 1100 audience members at Sanders Theatre. Parts of the opera were later broadcast on public radio’s “Science Friday” program.
  • Music by Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti, Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, and Frédéric François Chopin, story and words by Marc Abrahams
  • Directed by Maria Ferrante and Robin Abrahams
  • Starring Maria Ferrante and Scott Taylor
  • Featuring The Clock Chorus (Ellen Friend, Abby Schiff, Jean Cummings, Sue Wellington, Daniel Rosenberg, Kevin McCaughey, Michael Skuhersky, Ted Sharpe (chorus wrangler), John Jarcho, Fred Tsai, Erika Hutchinson, Jan Hadland, Kettly Benoit). The chorus ranks was swelled, in the opera’s final act, by the Nobel laureates
  • Backed by the Concentrated Forces of Nature, a distilled orchestra composed entirely of Harvard Medical School researchers Patrick Yacono and Thomas Michel
  • (Prior to Act 1) Special Time Micro-Lecture by Jenny Hoffman (Harvard physics professor)
  • (Prior to Act 2) Special Time Micro-Lecture by John Lowe (NIST time scientist)
  • (Prior to Act 3) Special Time Micro-Lecture by Eric Maskin (Nobel laureate in economics)