Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Hip-hop and Opera

Michael Wansley, pianist David McDade, and other members of the Seattle Opera Porgy and Bess chorus perform the hook from Macklemore's song "Thrift Shop" in 2018.

In honor of Hip-hop Celebration Day on August 11, we're exploring a few of our favorite opera/hip-hop intersections. From a new take on The Barber of Seville set in a Black barber shop, to Beyoncé's provocative performances, to previous Seattle Opera's collaborations with graffiti artists, and more—enjoy a few moments where these genres have blended to create something new.

Hip-hop songs that sample opera 
Enjoy a specially curated Seattle Opera playlist on Spotify of hip-hop songs that sample opera, including 1997's "The Rapsody Overture"—a concept album of hip hop mixed with classical music and opera.

Wanz in Seattle Opera's Porgy and Bess chorus 
"I'm gonna pop some tags!" You might recognize Grammy-winner Michael A. Wansley (a.k.a. Wanz) from Macklemore's popular song and music video "Thrift Shop." Wanz performed in both Seattle Opera's 2011 and 2018 productions of Porgy and Bess.  In 2018, accompanied by pianist David McDade, Wanz and fellow choristers performed a short rendition of that famous hook. Watch the video on Seattle Opera's Facebook.    

Will Liverman and K-Rico during the rehearsal process for The Factotum. 

A genre-breaking project from Will Liverman and K-Rico
In this video by Lyric Opera of Chicago, follow the development of a new opera by frequent Seattle Opera performer Will Liverman and DJ/recording artist K-Rico. The Factotum, inspired by Rossini's The Barber of Seville, takes place in a present-day Black barbershop in Chicago and combines operatic singing with hip-hop, barbershop, gospel, funk, neo soul, and R&B music. Chicago filmmaker Raphael Nash has captured the behind-the-scenes process of creating this new work and brings us backstage to meet the artists, hear from the creators, and feel the energy of a new opera being born.

A look back at Carmen: A hip-hopera 
During Seattle Opera's 2019 Carmen, we highlighted a variety of different interpretations of Georges Bizet's iconic opera. Our deep-dive of other interpretations included a look at the made-for-TV drama Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2001) starring Beyoncé Knowles.

In Carmen’s first iterations (the 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée and 1875 opera by Bizet), white French audiences viewed the exotic bohemian color, bullfights, and seductive so-called Spanish dances from a comfortable distance. Centuries later, African and African American adaptations of Carmen have interrupted a pattern of service to the white, European gaze. In the case of the films, Carmen Jones and Carmen: A Hip Hopera, "there is the added dynamic of having Carmen become the representative of Black people on the periphery of mainstream white culture," writes Dr. Naomi André in Black Opera: History, Power, and Engagement. "Yet the original relationship between Carmen as an outsider to the others in her novella/operatic world is altered, as there are now all-Black settings to the story."

Casey Lee and Beyoncé perform in "Carmen: A Hip Hopera." Credit: New Line Cinema

Babatunde Akinboboye on social media 
In December of 2018, Nigerian American baritone Babatunde Akinboboye combined his love of classical opera and hip hop and created the new genre Hip Hopera in a viral video (linked below) that gained more than 10 million views and was featured on Time.com, Classic FM, MSN.com and more. In addition to his impressive social media following, Akinboboye has performed with Los Angeles Opera, Opera San Jose, and Utah Opera among others. He was previously a Regional Finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition, and finalist in the International Eisteddfod Vocal Solo Competition in Llangollen, Wales.

Street art in Aida 
Seattle Opera's 2018 Aida included visual backdrops by the artist RETNA. Born Marquis Duriel Lewis, RETNA picked his moniker from the lyrics of a Wu Tang song that resonated with him in his youth. While he got his start with graffiti and tagging, RETNA’s practice now includes street art and painting on canvas (Aida was the first opera he's designed for). “Interestingly, RETNA has as much of an authentic connection to Egypt as Giuseppe Verdi did, if not a greater one: Egyptian hieroglyphics are one of the marked influences on his unique alphabet...much of his work (both for Aida, and outside the opera) revolves around the letters E and S, representing ‘the male/female, the sun and the moon, mostly’ — one phallic, one domed.'" (Washington Post).

In front of a set designed by RETNA, Marcy Stonikas (High Priestess) performs with cast members of Seattle Opera's Aida. Philip Newton photo

Seattle Opera partnership with 179
Angelina Villalobos (who goes by "179") partnered with Seattle Opera and Urban Artworks in 2018 to offer a free event for youth at McCaw Hall. Villalobos guided participants ages 11-18 in painting large-scale canvases, which now hang in the Opera Center. "I loved how the artists gravitated toward the metallic paints," Villalobos said. "We mixed color, talked about color theory, and shared what motivates us to stay creative." This painting session helped to wrap-up Seattle Opera's Aida, which included scenic backdrops by the street artist, RETNA. 

An image of one of the youth participants from Seattle Opera's session with Angelina Villalobos, "179." Philip Newton photo

What the opera world can learn from Beyoncé 
In an article for CNN, Seattle Opera Scholar Naomi André discussed what she believes the opera world can learn from Beyoncé. While typically labeled under the "pop" category, Bey's music blends genres and encompasses R&B, rock, country, blues, and of course, hip-hop. (She's also married to one of the most influential hip-hop artists of all time, rapper Jay-Z). 

"Fun fact: We have already seen Beyoncé within the context of opera, as the title character in Carmen: A Hip Hopera; an MTV adaptation of Bizet's 1875 opera, Carmen. Her exceedingly prescient early role combined the hip-hop and the opera diva. It is not hard for me to see the maturation of this cultural sophistication in her work in Homecoming." — Naomi André 

Beyoncé performs onstage in 2018 at Coachella. Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

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