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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

You could say the life of pop star Britney Spears is a soap opera. Well, now it really is an opera. Composer Jacob Cooper has written the new music opus "Timberbrit."

Claire Happel reports.

CLAIRE HAPPEL: A dying Britney Spears performs her last concert. It's her final, desperate hour, and Justin Timberlake wants her back.

(Soundbite of music)

HAPPEL: Or at least that's what the opera "Timberbrit" imagines.

(Soundbite of opera, "Timberbrit")

HAPPEL: Its slowed-down versions of Spears and Timberlake songs create something entirely new: a strange mix of electronic, pop and smoky vocals.

(Soundbite of opera, "Timberbrit")

Ms. MELLISSA HUGHES (Singer): (As Britney Spears) (Singing) I was your…

HAPPEL: When you slow down music that's already composed, it's called time-stretching. Mellissa Hughes performs the role of Britney.

Ms. HUGHES: "Hit Me Baby One More Time" is like…

(Singing) Hit me baby.

But we listen to it in real time, and you don't hear all those sort of consonants getting, you know, super stretched out and being all liquidy.

HAPPEL: Singer Ted Hearne plays Justin Timberlake.

Mr. TED HEARNE (Singer): Justin is a really, really vocal performer, right, and he has these sounds, you know, like (making mouth noises). That becomes, like, (singing). You know, these, like, incredibly drawn out things. And every cymbal (singing). And every cymbal's like (singing).

HAPPEL: The libretto, written by Yuka Igarashi, uses some of Spears' reoccurring themes: tears, love, dreams, innocence. The audience is reminded of Spears' music and lyrics, but the fast-paced sheen of pop becomes dark and weighted.

(Soundbite of opera, "Timberbrit")

Ms. HUGHES: (Singing) Hit me...

HAPPEL: The slowness of the music is reflected in the pace of the plot. In writing the libretto, Cooper and Igarashi took a snippet of Spears' life and suspended it over an hour. This is an adaptation of an old technique, where an important scene is stretched to heighten the drama.

In the death scene of Verdi's "Rigoletto," for example, the plot completely stops as a prone, dying woman suddenly finds the strength to sing a 10-minute aria.

(Soundbite of opera, "Rigoletto")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

HAPPEL: In most operas, the death scene is only that: one scene. But in "Timberbrit," the death scene is the entire opera.

Again, Ted Hearne.

Mr. HEARNE: It sort of takes place in a moment. And in that way, it's very different from traditional opera, I think.

HAPPEL: The stretching of both the music and story prolongs Spears' destruction and amplifies her downfall. But seeing it happen in slow motion makes it all the more tragic.

For NPR News, I'm Claire Happel.

BLOCK: You can listen to an entire aria from "Timberbrit" at the music section of the new npr.org.

(Soundbite of opera, "Timberbrit")

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