Opera with a twist of hip-hop, the perfect blend
Published: Sunday, June 26, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
It is easy to overlook the origins of the passion unfolded onstage last Sunday in HOPERA: Unleashed. Composer and vocalist Adrian Dunn's musical creativity and technical mastery enabled a seamless fusion of two genres not normally seen on the same side of town: hip-hop and opera. The blend was so seamless it became easy to forget that these two disparate art forms have camps that throw a cynical eye at each other, and music in general, with square-peg-round-hole attitudes. It doesn't fit, so it doesn't belong.
Dunn has transcended these rules by providing a vision that integrates music with words to demonstrate how things that don't seem to fit can belong. He has integrated elements of hip-hop and opera to serve as a nearly subconscious and consonant musical foundation for the narrative, which he unfolds atop it.
The performance marks the return of the company's 2009 performance, Hopera: A Fallen Hero and features a series of numbers from the first studio album of hip-hop opera company, HOPERAWorld, released earlier this month.
In this update to Shakespeare's Othello, Obadiah King takes the stage as an African-American high school student in Chicago who dreams of becoming a New York Times best-selling writer. But amidst these dreams, struggles run wild.
Hopera Unleashed packages pain, sorrow, and love and presents it to the audience as a uniquely wrapped gift. Using a technique typically practiced only by jazz musicians, Dunn often turns his back to the audience, focusing attention and passion to his performers. Rather than excluding the audience however, the technique seems to amplify the emotion sweeping across the stage between the performers, producing a beautiful and visceral experience for all.
Hopera Unleashed's message employs various musical constructs as the story unfolds. At the start of the performance, Dunn says, "Love has been replaced between the races. The time to stop is now." As the hopera progresses, its harmony calls into question how different hip-hop and opera really are from one another. Violence and anguish fall from both sides of hip-hop and opera's scaffolding, highlighting the universally darker areas of people's personas. The theme of integrating traditionally segregated ideas/music/people is at the root of Hopera Unleashed.
The combined forces of hip-hop and opera move one in a way that is not typically experienced in other genres. The voice of Othello's mother (played by Amanda Davis) embraces you with powerful overtones and passionate wails. As Davis crescendos, the listener is mentally brought onto the stage. As the rapping beats of Dunn quickly merge with Davis' vocals, the audience becomes synchronized with rhythms flowing from the stage.
"Wow," said an audience member sitting behind me.
A common method to form new art is to blend existing genres; more than one soaring classical masterpiece was derived from simple folks songs enjoyed by we lesser-born. Oftentimes, these new genres encountered resistance from purists that might accept evolutionary modifications, but would not accept a revolutionary break from their comfort zone.
However, Hopera Unleashed cast members say they enjoy mixing the two genres because it delivers a positive message to today's youth.
"Hip-hopera brings more life to classical music," said Donald Manuel, who plays Obidiah King. "It is something different that a lot more young people can relate to."
Amanda Davis, who play's Othello's mother, said their music helps expose children to classical music, while still being cool overall.
"Our ancestors cared about each other," Davis said. "But now it seems to be about hate. We want to come together and utilize each other in our music because we are about the community."
In short, the dichotomy expressed by two seemingly unrelated musical genres is reflected by the theme of Dunn's message. He seems to be asking, if music as radically distinct as hip-hop and opera, music that has been separated by centuries of musical and cultural evolution, can flow as one, can harmonize, can enhance each other, can be combined to synergistically create something greater than its components … why can't we?
Hopera: Unleashed says we can.
For more videos from the hopera performance, go to The DePaulia's YouTube channel.