The Los Angeles Opera Company at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion presents Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Italian-American tenor and musical genius Placido Domingo is the General Manager. Russian, Swedish, German, Canadian, English, Austrian, Korean and American artists, who are tenors, sopranos, baritones and bass, populate the roster. A full symphony orchestra occupies the pit under the direction of internationally acclaimed American conductor James Conlon. Racial and ethnic diversity abounds. The 3,200 Pavilion seats are filled most every night during the opera’s two-week run.
Highways in Santa Monica, which showcases about 250 productions a year, is Southern California’s boldest center for new performance. Kicking-off 2009, for a two-night run, is “Street Cred 101: The Hip Hopera,” a “school for this year’s class of Out hip-hoppers.” African-American Khalil Amani, author, essayist and gay rights activist, is the Professor. Converging for the on-stage classroom are gay, lesbian and transsexual hip-hop and rap artists. Ethnic and racial diversity reigns, sharpening the cutting edge of the HomoRevolution in the underground gay rap scene. Each fighting for recognition and street creds. The performances play to full houses.
The Dorothy Chandler’s stage floor is a kaleidoscope of color and design. A pyramid rises from center stage, signaling that we have entered an imaginary ancient Egypt. Young Prince Tamino, one of the opera’s major characters, is being chased by a huge serpent. He enters, sings and falls unconscious. Three ladies emerge from a temple and kill the snake. Court jester/social butterfly Papageno enters. He’s dressed to resemble a dazzling bird since he is also the local birdcatcher.
Highways has stadium-like seating with a close-up view of the performance space/stage which contains chairs and a podium. Lighting and staging is classroom simple. Professor Amani enters and begins “lecturing” on a hip-hop sub-culture populated by gay/lesbian/transsexual rappers. Students enter: Deadlee, Down Low, Last Offence, Captain Magik, Bry’nt, Foxxjazell, Nano, Salvimex and Prince Cat-Eyez. Altogether, fifteen young vibrant hip-hop artists are ready to confront, challenge, and convince.
Tamino awakens and assumes Papageno has killed the snake and the wily birdcatcher accepts the credit. This perplexes the three ladies and they padlock Papageno’s lips. They show Tamino a picture of Pamino, the beautiful daughter of The Queen of the Night, their mistress. One look and he falls instantly in love. He learns that Pamino has been kidnapped by the evil magician Sarastro. The Queen of the Night appears and asks Tamino to save Pamino receiving a Magic Flute to help him in his quest. Prince Tamino has a big job ahead.
Rap vs Hip-Hop – What’s the Difference? According to Blog Critics Magazine, “This is one of the trickier questions we’ve tried to answer. It seems every time we’re about to arrive at an easy explanation someone throws in a different opinion. Some maintain that rap is a kind of music, whereas hip-hop is a lifestyle — one that includes rap, break dancing, DJing, and graffiti art. Rap pioneer and sage KRS-One says simply, ‘Rap is something you do, but hip-hop is something you live.’ Others, however, insist that hip-hop is a musical style distinct from rap, for very specific reasons: mainly hip-hop has a particular beat and uses scratching and ‘breaks’ (samples). They claim rapping over a soul or heavy metal track could never be hip-hop. In other words, these folks say all hip-hop is rap, but not all rap is hip-hop.”
Professor Amani calls homophobia a religious hoax writing, “50 Cent, Eminem, DMX, Ja Rule, Busta Rhymes, Elephant Man, Buju Banton, Tim Hardaway, TD Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Bishop Eddie Long…the jig is up! Your homophobia has officially been dismantled. Do you even know why you’re homophobic?” His blog blasts, “Did somebody throw one of those exterminating tents over the house of hip-hop, ‘cause these ig-nant-ass homophobic rappers are ‘coming out of the closet’ like somebody just sprayed Raid! Seems like my job is never done!” The passionate professor has a big job ahead.
Deadlee, one of the show’s producers, “initially had a style which was a blend of hip-hop and rap, with a thrash rock undercurrent. His lyrics tackled race, class, sex and even police brutality.” Along with transgendered artist Foxjazell, he was featured on the Tyra Banks Show “Gay Athletes and Rappers – It’s Not In to be Out .” A clip of the show, which won a GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Award, appeared on a rear screen. Straight rapper guest Ajaxx, who is opposed to “homo hop,” squared off against Deadlee. Ajaxx claims that homo rappers can never be successful because the “street” won’t accept them. “Homo artists have no street cred,” he cries. Deadlee seized the challenge and with Down Low produced “The Hip Hopera: Street Cred 101.”
Placido Domingo writes, “In difficult times, spending a few hours in an Opera fantasy world can be restorative as well as enjoyable…like every arts organization, LA Opera is carefully monitoring its finances…I know that ‘The Magic Flute’ will start a very Happy New Year, filled with glorious music.”
Highways Artistic Director Leo Garcia comments, “I’m aligned with Highway’s commitment to diversity, to the development of new works, to the exploration of new forms of performance and to our First Amendment Right of free expression…(we are) affecting positive change through performance…As we move forward, we need your support more than ever before.”
Los Angeles is the world’s diversity capitol. I was impressed by the superb professional performances given by world-class artists at the Dorothy Chandler. However, it was the edgy, relevant performances of the young dedicated, driven and talented gay, lesbian. and transsexual artists at Highways that inspired and thoroughly entertained me.