Hip H'Opera: Interviews

During the production of our innovative Hip H'Opera we interviewed the performers and organisers to hear their thoughts on this unique collaboration.

Interview with Charlie Parker, Adaptation and Musical Arrangements

Hiphop as an industry is the biggest grossing musical genre in the world and opera is internationally celebrated as well as being regarded as one of the most complex and elaborate art forms to produce. What do you think of the collaboration of these two cultural giants?

It’s good to attempt to collaborate like this... not only from a musical perspective is it interesting, especially as hiphop musical production often employs a magpie technique of borrowing from other genres and has done from opera already to good effect.. so its almost natural that something like this should happen. It’s also very good for this to happen because it allows people of all persuasions to see hiphop composed and performed in a different environment to what is normal. Hopefully, it will also educate the non hiphop people on how hiphop can work in establishment institutions and venues.

What to you, is the essence of hiphop?

That is the sort of question that if you have to ask it, you may not be ready for the answer... there is no real hiphop philosophy, not hard and fast. I would say the essence of hiphop is the spirit (the "vibe") that has travelled through gospel, blues, jazz and soul... hiphop is the post '70s generations' interpretation of this spirit.

What’s your approach to this adaptation? 

To create new music using the techniques of hiphop production and composition and using Mozart’s opera as the musical and harmonic starting point.

How are you staying true to both art forms? How do they compliment each other?

Music can always complement other musical styles. You just need to look for what lies underneath the surface. To stay true to both forms we have enlisted experienced professionals from both genres to take part in the planning, composition, execution and performance of the piece..

How would you like audiences to respond to School 4 Lovers? 

Positively... they just need to enjoy it.

What/who have been the biggest influences on your career?  

God.

How have you found the experience of collaborating with the creative team while writing this piece?

Testing but very progressive and a good experience.  

What is the hip hop scene like in Finland? What are the contrasts with the British scene?

Hiphop in Finland, as with all of Europe, is very varied in its style and sound. The difference between Britain and Finland first off is down to language... that’s important.. Europeans had success back in the 90s with hiphop in their natural tongues. Now everyone is trying to rhyme in English. A lot of the production I have heard in Finland (and Europe generally) really follows the MTV American sound. I know that there is a more diverse range of sound within the scene, but the music that gets most attention seems to be the music that copies the American sound. That is a problem that is perpetuated by the media and record companies that don’t want to experiment with new groups and new styles.

Interview with Youth Crew members – Finland and UK

Roxanne Sasha Bryant, UK, Age 17

Why do you want to do this project?

I want to take part in the Hip H’Opera to experience something new. I think its such a great opportunity to be involved with such a huge and original project. It is great to work with such professionals like Paradigmz, Charlie and Suzie. I also want to increase my hip hop dance skills because I'm hoping for a career in it. I want to improve my vocal skills as I had never sung before this project. I really enjoy working with other people who are passionate about the same things as me.

Are you excited about the show?

I am mostly excited about the final performance at Glyndebourne and being able to perform in such an amazing venue on such a fantastic stage as part of a huge production with a massive live audience.

What do you think about opera now you are in involved in this project?

Before the project I didn’t really have any interest in opera. I knew a bit about the venue because because my dad worked there but operas had never really inspired me. The project has made me look past opera in the stereotypical image of fat ladies screeching and loads of posh people watching.

What are you learning? And what are you working on week to week?

I have always loved hiphop music and found it inspiring but from this project I have learnt the whole history of hip hop culture and music and the way in which it developed which I found really interesting. I have also learnt the story of Cosí fan tutte and how an opera is created.

You as a crew are one of the elements representing hiphop in the show, what hiphop forms are you working with?

In sessions we have been working on our break dancing skills and building stamina to enable us to break to a beat. Various popping and body rippling sequences which have really improved since the beginning of the project. The vocal training has been great, learning how to warm up our voices has really helped. Having to write lyrics and then fit a tune to them which is to fit over the top of a given beat/piece of music is really challenging but great fun.

'The Hip H’Opera movement is a new direction in music, which in today’s society is all about diversity… LP believes that if hip hop and opera can actually work on the same levels, a lot of barriers will be taken down. LP also appreciates that they were chosen to represent hiphop [as part of the Crew].  The atmosphere has been nothing but amazing, educational, mind provoking as well as fun.  The staff are all amazing from the choreographers to the directors.  LP hopes to continue working with great inspirators in the future.' 
Kymani Hippolyte, LP Crew, London

'Youth Crew in Finland was selected through audition in December, where we had around 100 talented dancers. Forty of them were chosen for School 4 Lovers. The role for Youth Crew is to bring local energy and group power to the stage. Also individual skills are important on a process to create a whole new idea of the performance. Forty dancers will fill the space with their different dancing skills and will make a great impact to the audience with their energy.'  
Osku Heiskanen, Youth Crew Co-ordinator, Finland

Interview with Stephen Plaice, Adaptation and Text

How dare we do this to Mozart?!!

He can't sue.

What were your initial thoughts when you were asked to re-write Da Ponte’s work? 

I thought, if I accepted, I would probably be banished from the land, as Da Ponte was himself on more than one occasion. Then I thought, well, in writing Cosi, Mozart and da Ponte went to the very edge of what was possible in terms of a sexual comedy in 18th century Vienna, possible that is, without being locked up. And if they were writing in our time, they would have wanted to have taken the relationships between the two couples to the point of real infidelity. So that’s what we’ve done in this version. I also felt there was a much leaner and perhaps funnier comedy waiting to be released from the vast acreage of the piece, which could be realized without losing too many of the great musical moments. Ever since I’ve started work on the adaptation, I’ve felt a presence at my shoulder, sometimes genial, sometimes disruptive. But I honestly don’t know if that’s Mozart or Da Ponte. Perhaps they’re working shifts.

How did you set about transforming the 18th century love story into a modern day context?

The first thing was to create an environment in which hip hop generally flourishes – urban, poor, with lots of young people out in the streets. Then I needed to transpose the characters down to that social level, both in terms of their living conditions and also in terms of their language and attitude. So Don Alfonso, the experimenting aristocrat of the original, became Big Donnie, the manager of the hip hop crew and unscrupulous local landlord. Guglielmo and Ferrando became Liam and Freddie, the techies for the crew, and Fiordiligi and Dorabella their girlfriends, anxious to get out of the ghetto and move uptown. Despina, the maid in the original, remained Despina, but she becomes an out-of-work actress in the modern day. However, she retains the same out-for-herself attitude. She shares one of Donnie’s shabby flats with the girls and presents to them a distinctly unromantic view of men, who she thinks should be used for pleasure only and then discarded.

In order to sharpen the comedy for a modern audience, we decided quite early on to find modern equivalents for all the events in the piece – so, for example, the ‘Albanians’ become ‘foreign film directors’, the poisoning at the end of Act 1 becomes food poisoning, the wedding contract at the end of Act 2 becomes a pre-nuptual agreement and so on. Once these major changes had been established, the minor details updated themselves quite easily. We have also cut away the eggy moments when Despina returns in her disguises. But, at one level, Cosi is pure farce, and that aspect is pretty timeless, so best not to tinker with it.

How would you like audiences to respond to School 4 Lovers?

I hope they come to it with an openness. I hope those who love hiphop will see that it might have a place in music theatre too, without being compromised. Equally, I hope those who love opera will start to feel the vibe of hip hop in the context of a familiar piece, without feeling it is being desecrated. Above all, I hope people laugh.

How have you found the experience of collaborating with the creative team while writing this piece?
 
I won’t pretend it’s been easy. It was a huge undertaking, translating one of the biggest sung operas in the repertoire into a totally different musical culture. A librettist usually works with a single composer, but this time there was a Mozart arranger, a hip hop composer and, latterly, a hip hop crew. It’s been an exercise in knowing where to fix the text and keep control, and where to allow the rap to take over. It was very interesting to see the way the hip hop crew build their material. Their process has opened up for me the whole vibe of hip hop, of ‘finding the groove’ through a beat before the words and the music can start to be created. This is what the hip hop people were telling us at the outset of the project, but it’s not until you experience it yourself that you really understand. That’s why it’s so difficult to explain what genuine hip hop is – because it’s a vibe rather than a single style. It will be interesting to see what happens when the vibe is introduced into the opera house.

What/who have been the biggest influences on your career?

Dramatically, Georg Büchner, who wrote the play of Woyzeck on which Berg’s opera was based, Christopher Marlowe and Goethe (particularly their Fausts), Sheridan, Homer, Aristophanes and Horace among the classics. Then among the moderns – Pinter, Orton, Peter Barnes, Berkoff, Tankred Dorst. A lot of poets – Shakespeare, Keats and Shelley, Rilke, Baudelaire, Graves and Larkin. Graham Greene has never been far from my thoughts either. But then, I live in Brighton - Greeneland. The larger landscape I live in has had a major influence too – the Downs. I’ve learnt most about opera from my wife, who is a singer, but I think Puccini has been the major influence in showing me how to shape a dramatic story for music. Working with Birtwistle was a fascinating exercise in finding the shape for a musical drama before a note of music had been written. Finally there are my children, who keep me comic, and keep it real.

Interview with Katie Tearle and Ulla Laurio, Heads of Education at Glyndebourne and FNO

Hiphop is the biggest grossing music industry in the world and opera is internationally celebrated and regarded as one of the most complex and elaborate art forms to produce.Why have you decided to bring these two cultural giants together?

Katie: 
When Markus Kosuch (who had the idea in the first place) came to us I was really interested as Education Departments like to make new partnerships and a cultural and artistic collaboration such as this felt very creative and new way of engaging young people.

School 4 Lovers endeavours to broaden the horizons of opera and hip hop and to make artists aware of them as tools for expression.  What are the ambitions of this piece and how do you hope they will be achieved?

Ulla:  Opera, the art form that comprises music, drama, visual arts and movement, can be a very powerful tool of expression for anyone who really has something to say! But where are the young people who really have something to say nowadays? Not in the opera. Many of them can be found within the hip hop scene. 
It’s opera’s fault that they are not interested in opera – this art form is often seen as alienated from the real world, very difficult to access, something that belongs only to the very specialized connoisseur. And yet we know that opera can be enjoyed by anybody and that the fantastic level of artistic know-how in opera houses can benefit any artist who looks at it with open eyes.

That’s why we thought that it would be fun and beneficial to both parties to somehow make these worlds of hip hop and opera meet. This is just one project and one meeting but with it we will at least start a conversation. Our ambition is to create opera in which young people will recognise themselves and see their lives in it. The only way to achieve this is to open up and let young people in!

What is RESEO and how has it supported School 4 Lovers?

Katie: Reseo stands for ‘Réseau Européen des service educatifs des Maisons D’Opéra (in French) or the European Network of Education Departments in Opera Houses.  It was founded in 1996 and currently has around 40 members.  It is a valuable organisation for the members as we share information, experience and ideas and sometimes work on projects together.  In 2006 we are working together on a project called The Creative Ways to Mozart Project (CWM) a collaboration between opera houses and youth culture organisations to engage young people creatively with Mozart and his operas. Working with artists, teachers and young people from across the continent, the partner organisations will exchange, compare, brainstorm, document and, above all, produce ways to bring Mozart alive for young people 250 years after his birth. CWM will offer young people a range of creative ways to Mozart including School 4 Lovers – a Hip H’Opera.

What are your views on how to change the myth that opera is for a conservative aging audience?

Ulla: I’m not sure that we really need to change that myth. We just need to widen it, to widen the idea of opera. There has to be opera for conservative aging audiences (most of us will be just that one day) but there has to be and there is opera for other kinds of people as well. Nobody thinks that books or pictures are only for a certain type of people. Opera is like that – there is lots of different kinds of opera in the world, and more coming!

What’s next? Are you going to retain your relationship with your new partners?

Katie: Good question, I find things always grow from a project and a new idea emerges. What that will be at the moment is not fully formed, but something will happen. I guarantee it.
(Ulla) Absolutely! I hope that this is just a start.

Interview with Paradise, ‘Donnie’, (57th Dynasty/The Good Samaritan Music Project)

What can hiphop teach the opera houses?

As Hiphop is the dominant counter-culture that has risen to a global apex, all facets including its music and its lifestyle continues to grow steadily, meshing & merging simultaneously assimilating the mainstream into a position of ACCEPTANCE and TOLERANCE for what ‘we’ believe in.

What to you is the essence of Hip Hop?

Being you! In the face of adversity, confrontation, the chips stacked against you, the odds not in your favor… remaining steadfast in who you are and the ideals you believe in. That’s hiphop to me! It’s non-conforming for the sake of conformity.

What did you want to do this project? 

On a personal level, I didn’t want to do anything except expand my own horizons and challenge myself, but for the sake of hiphop, I want to provide a wider platform for experimentation and cross cultural, cross musical boarder crossings.

What is exciting about it?

The merging of two musical genres is nothing new to us in this age of hybrid-cross-pollinised-melting-pot-ipod-mp3-mashup-multi-media sequencing, but these two polarised arts in-particular have an extremely pivotal cultural significance in today's society. The taking of these two often misunderstood genres, from complete opposite sides of the polar (Opera being traditionally enjoyed by society's elitist and hiphop marginalised as a mere street culture created from the dregs of society); one seen as a music for the old vanguard to appreciate and the other celebrated by the rebellious and revolutionary youth. The fusing of this thirtysomething year old, New York City incarnation of music & drama alongside it's 16th century counterpart, is what can only be considered as embarking on a cultural evolution as opposed to a clash of cultures or a culture shock.

What, if anything, of the character of Donnie are you basing on yourself?  Where are you drawing your inspiration from to get into character?

Well the me that is Paradise is a person that overstands the higher and lower degrees of LOVE, and in that, it is easy to mistake ourselves to be in love with someone without considering that we may have merely fallen in love with the emotions of love. Sometimes we may have fallen in love with the concept of love and not the person we are with at all. Another mistake is when people fall in love with the image they believe they can change one another into, without truly accepting the person for who they are at that moment in their lives. Donnie just wants to bring his experiences to them ‘love’ sick kids.

What’s the potential for future hiphop/opera collaboration?

All dependant on its aim. Our aim is to involve young people in creating and performing, as well as taking the art forms of hiphop & opera into new musical territories forging new creative partnerships between the two. The production will encourage and inspire new audiences for both hiphop and opera through its international performances. So with the correct balance between the artform and purpose then the future is ours… by way of the sun, moon and starrrs!

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