Cville Company Stages Hip Hop Opera

Oct 30, 2017

The world of opera continues to search for ways to draw more young people to a rich and complex experience.  In Charlottesville one company is taking a whole new approach, adding hip hop to its next production.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

Victory Hall Opera adds hip hop to an 18th century composition -- Sympathy.
Credit Victory Hall Opera

Miriam Gordon-Stewart has performed in many of the world’s big opera houses – in productions that cost a fortune to stage, and she knows just how much financial trouble many companies are in.  As a result, opera is going indy.

“Some companies will perform in edgy venues, like warehouses," she says, " Other companies might try all tickets costing $30 and offer free beer.  Other places might say, ‘We’re going to try only producing operas that are 90 minutes long, and finding other ways that it could potentially evolve that don’t demand such a high budget but give people the same powerful experience.”

In Charlottesville, she and several other singers have formed Victory Hall Opera – a group committed to performing in small spaces.

“You know people aren’t staring off at an opera singer way off in the distance and feeling very isolated," Gordon-Stewart explains.  "Instead they’re feeling the sound of that classically trained voice – that amazing instrument -- passing through their bodies.”

This fall, they’ll share an opera never before seen in this country.  Sympathy was composed in 1751 by Jean Phillipe Rameau, but Gordon-Stewart  -- who found the score in a rare collection at UVA’s library – says they’ll update the experience with hip hop.

“It won’t be hip hop music but it will be hip hop choreography to this baroque music,” she says.

And that works, because baroque music has a strong beat.  The show opens October  28th at the Haven with two more performances on November 1st and 3rd.  And while patrons are paying at least $100 for a seat at the Met in New York, Virginians will pay just $40 to see this American premiere.