Hip-hop Opera The Collaborators

Hip-hop Opera The Collaborators
Hip-hop and opera aren’t obvious bedfellows, but an Urban Music Series being produced by the Canadian Opera Company in conjunction with the Royal Conservatory of Music is aiming to connect the dots. The series features turntable and DJ demonstrations and hip-hop tutorials featuring Canadian hip-hop MCs Dan-e-o, Kamau and DJs Lil Jaz and T.R.A.C.K.S. The latter two DJs, known for their work with K-OS and Irs respectively, are working on The Hip Hopera, a collaboration with soprano Teiya Kasahara, baritone Justin Welsh and pianist Liz Upchurch on May 7 at Toronto’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

"From the first day it was a collaboration,” says programming director Nina Draganic. "It wasn’t ‘We’re gonna give you an opera libretto and you’re gonna put a rap beat under it.’” Instead, the creative process fused both genres and themes. "We started to discuss things we all shared,” says Kasahara. "We had this commonality of being from different backgrounds and sharing the same struggle about identity.”

The result follows interracial couple Ann and Joey and how they negotiate challenges and expectations, which was also refelcted in the musical process. "It was hard to expect the singers to improvise over music that was created for them,” says DJ Lil’ Jaz. "But in hip-hop, it is expected. If you can’t flow, cut, dance, or throw up on whatever medium is put in front of you, you are judged adversely. It is definitely unfair to put these expectations on other genres, because they play by different rules.”

In the end, narrative goals overrode musical differences. "It’s a collaboration that really enriches and invigorates both art forms,” says Draganic. "It’s exciting to express this music and my voice in different ways than I would have in classical singing,” says Kasahara. "The options are limitless of how I can sing something or express something in this work. It’s so freeing.”