Canadian Opera Company goes hip-hop

Tue May 6, 2008 3:45pm EDT
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By Julie Mollins

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, best known for staging classical European operas for nearly 60 years, is breaking new ground with an original hip-hop-inspired production on Wednesday.

Soprano Teiya Kasahara, baritone Justin Welsh, pianist Liz Upchurch, plus local rap DJs lil Jaz and T.R.A.C.K.S. composed the work in hip-hop beat mode, rather than operatic orchestration and vocals.

Their new work, "Hip Hopera," is a story about the challenges faced by an interracial couple.

"Because we had such a strong and clear focus of what we wanted to present in this piece, the creative work flowed quite smoothly and naturally," Kasahara explained.

"Even the fusion of the two genres just seemed to fit as we wrote the words and music, blending them together -- so did the genres of hip-hop and opera."

Hip-hop, consisting of rhythmic rapping over backing beats usually performed on a turntable by a DJ, may seem an unlikely style to combine with opera. But Nina Draganic, the opera company's programming director, discovered that the two musical genres make a good match.

"We wanted to try to debunk some of the myths and challenge preconceptions around hip-hop music and rap," which is seen in some circles as glorifying violence and misogyny, according to Draganic.

"If you look at any opera, it's rife with murder, rape and misogyny and even incest," she added. "The darker side is a part of life and all great art attempts to shine some light on that and deal with it."   Continued...