The Ig Nobel Operas

Every Ig Nobel Prize ceremony since 1996 has included a new mini-opera, performed by professional opera singers (with Nobel Laureates acting in supporting roles). These mini-operas honor the tradition of the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “Rabbit of Seville“—each mini-opera is a pasticcio that marries a brand new story & words to beloved old music (from operas, popular songs, etc.).

    • 2019: “Creatures of Habit” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: A visit to the Museum of Bad Habits, which explores a basic question. Why do people who persistently do bad things keep on doing those bad things? Because they MUST—or because they CAN?
    • 2018: “The Broken Heart Opera” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Children curious to know ‘How can you mend a broken heart?’ decide that the best way is to first build a heart, then break it, then mend it. They try to do exactly that.
    • 2017: “The Incompetence Opera” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: A stranger, a cocky psychologist, walks into a crowded bar. He insists on explaining the Peter Principle (in any organization, people rise to their own level of incompetence) and the Dunning-Kruger effect (incompetent people don’t realize they are incompetent).


    • 2016:  “The Last Second” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Officials in charge of synchronizing the world’s clocks realize that if they insert an extra second (an unannounced leap second) at the end of the year, they can commit prodigious financial crimes.
    • 2015:  “The Best Life” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Promoters collect one of every species of life, to stage an internationally broadcast ceremony to declare which species is The Best Form of Life. Gathered all together in one giant room, the creatures want to eat and/or have sex with each other, and do. The event promoters survive, and are hauled into a courtroom packed with hungry lawyers.
    • 2014:  “What’s Eating You?” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: A wealthy couple buy up all the farmland on earth, intending to manufacture special nutrient pills that will let them live forever. After many years, all other humans have died, and the couple runs out of pills. The bacteria in the rich couple’s guts happily expect to outlive them.
    • 2013:  “The Blonsky Device” [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: A lightly fictionalized version of the story of George and Charlotte Blonsky, inventors of a device (US patent #3,216,423) to assist women in giving birth by using centrifugal force.
    • 2012:  “The Intelligent Designer and The Universe”  [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: The world’s wealthiest man, who in his youth won the ‘Mr. Universe’ competition, has died. His will specifies that all the money be used to ‘make a beautiful, beautiful dress for the Universe.’ The world’s top dress designer attempts to carry out that wish.
    • 2011:  “Chemist in a Coffee Shop”  [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Baristas and customers in a coffee shop obsess over the chemistry of their favorite beverage.
    • 2010:  “The Bacterial Opera”  [libretto (PDF), video]-PLOT: Gallileococcus, a brilliant bacterium who lives on a woman’s tooth, uses his biofilm to make a telescope and see far out into the universe. The bacteria begin building a scaffold, so they can climb up, and boldly go explore the universe. But the woman awakes and, apocalyptically for the bacteria, brushes and flosses her teeth.
    • 2009:  “The Big Bank Opera”  [libretto (PDF), video: Act 1 Act 2 Act 3 Act 4]-PLOT: Swanky bankers celebrate themselves, the history of money, and the out-of-this-world rise of big banks. The big banks crash to earth. The bankers vituperate, with swank.
    • 2008:  “Redundancy, Again”  [libretto]-PLOT: Industrialist twin brothers fire everyone whose job in anyway overlaps anyone else’s job. However, whenever even one employee quits, the entire operation grinds to a halt, because no one knows anyone else’s job. Then consultants recommend, again and again, that the brothers institute redundancy.
    • 2007:  “Chicken Versus Egg”  [libretto]-PLOT: Mother/daughter tensions grow ever worse as a hen sits on an egg, as the egg hatches, and as the daughter chick herself contemplates motherhood.
    • 2006:  “Inertia Makes The World Go Around”  [libretto (PDF)-PLOT: A tale of budding romance, involving a boy, a dog, and two sisters, one of whom is always at rest, the other always in motion.
    • 2005:  “The Count of Infinity”  [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: The Countess of Infinity, who has OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), hires an attractive accountant to help her count each and every object in the land of Infinity. They struggle with the magnitude of the task, and with incipient love.
    • 2004:  “The Atkins Diet Opera”  [libretto (PDF)]-PLOT: Dr. Atkins, observing cats munch on birds, invents the perfect diet regimen: eat only meat. Then, after becoming famous and rich, Dr. Atkins finds a way to top himself: he invents the Coffee Diet.
    • 2003:  “Atom and Eve”  [libretto]-PLOT: Eve, a chemist, falls madly in love with little Atom, who is an oxygen atom. Atom reciprocates the feeling. The lovers, who live on such different scales, yearn to consummate their love. Eve decides to use laser beams to create a giant Bose-Einstein condensate, thus bringing Atom up to size. Sort of.
Watch the little oxygen atom sing about his gigantic love.
    • 2002:  “The Jargon Opera”  [libretto]-PLOT: Delegates to the International Jargon Conference struggle to find understanding. They find it. They understand that they want to kill each other. They realize that the only thing that can save them, and save humanity, is harmonious misunderstanding.
    • 2001:  “The Wedding Complex”  [libretto]-PLOT: Scientists try to use their knowledge and social skills to plan the wedding of two colleagues. [NOTE: The premiere performance culminated with the actual wedding, on stage, televised worldwide, of two NASA scientists.]
    • 2000:  “The Brain Food Opera”  [libretto]-PLOT: A man and woman want to be the most intelligent couple on earth. But they disagree on how to go about it. HE insists they should eat nothing but fish. SHE insists on brains – and nothing but. Unfortunately, the brains SHE eats came from mad cows, and she contracts Mad Cow Disease. The fish HE eats were contaminated with mercury, and he comes down with Mad Hatter’s Disease. The couple, who are mad for each other, create the world’s next great diet fad food: Fish Brains!
    • 1999:  “The Seedy Opera”  [libretto]-PLOT: In the hills of Chicago, there dwells a brilliant, lonely shepherd named Richard Seed. One day, he makes a scientific breakthrough – he discovers how to clone sheep. And clone himself. Maidens in New Zealand, having heard the news, come to Chicago and kiss the sheep, magically transforming those sheep into handsome scientists. The lovers form a corporation to clone zillions of copies of Richard Seed, for sale as soldiers to armies of every nation.
    • 1998:  “La Forza Del Duct Tape”  [libretto]-PLOT: The inventor of duct tape undergoes tragedy, as venture capitalists duct tape him to a chair and steal his patent rights.The world’s most famous reporter arrives, adding a televised capstone of ruination to the world’s most terrible technological tragedy.
    • 1997:  “Il Kaboom Grosso”  [libretto]-PLOT: One day, God decides to quit smoking, but he wants to have one last cigar. The cigar explodes in a big bang, creating the universe. Beautiful galaxies form… but disturbing rumors say those galaxies are missing some of the gravitational mass necessary to maintain their shapes. The galaxies try to solve the mystery of the missing mass. They succeed.
    • 1996:  “Lament Del Cockroach”  [libretto]-PLOT: A mysterious object is heading toward the earth, threatening everyone with extinction. All the insects are desperate to mate with the one species they think could survive ANYTHING – the cockroaches. But there are only two cockroaches left, both females, and they resist the romantic overtures. The object – a meteorite from Mars – descends, killing the cockroaches. All the other insects are unharmed; they celebrate with a new burst of song, dance, and evolution.

You can watch the premiere performance of each opera, in the video of that year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.

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