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Home > Culture and Society

'Hiphopera': Groovy teacher syndrome at work?

20 August 2005

Great news for opera buffs: Mozart's opera Cosi Fan Tutte is being updated as a 'hiphopera' at Glyndebourne, complete with rapping and people saying 'wicked' a lot. But if you're not familiar with the original, it goes something like this:

Young chaps Guglielmo and Ferrando enter into a bet with the cynical café owner Don Alfonso that their girlfriends, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, will remain faithful even if wooed by other men. With the usual crap logic that seems to afflict characters in operas and Shakespearean comedies, they then decide to test their other halves' loyalty by wooing each others' partners.

After a while, Guglielmo and Ferrando start to have doubts about what they're doing, though not about the fact that they've obviously got way too much time on their hands. By the end of the opera, the lovers are all bestest mates again but - and here's the twist - we don't discover whether they pair off with their
original partners or not.

Well, it is a comedy. Although when the opera was first performed, it got a bit of a slagging, and productions opened with an apology for the 'frivolous' plot. Even so, it appears to be immeasurably better than the updated version. According to The Guardian:

'The new version will see Mozart switched from 18th century Naples to the car park of an inner-city London council estate... The production will turn Guglielmo and Ferrando into two roadies getting ready for a national rap tour... [there will be] a rap version of Soave sia il vento and argot such as "gimme five" and "wicked" instead of the original Italian.'

'Gimme five'? 'Wicked'? The 'hiphopera' version of Cosi Fan Tutte appears to be written in slightly dated, and thus extremely naff,yoofspeak. There really ought to be an expression for this sort of thing, and we think it should be Groovy Teacher Syndrome, after the sort of teacher who tries who be down wit da kids but fails to realise the last time they were cool was in 1975. The Glyndebourne company should really have gone the whole hog, eg.

Act 1, Scene 1. A teacher training college in Reading, 1975.

Guglielmo: Reckon your chick would put out for me, man?

Ferrando: Don't be ungroovy, Gug, man!

Dorabella: Yeah, take a chill pill, man!

Fiordiligi: Anyway, according to The Female Eunuch we have to stop being complicit in our own sexual enslavement to outmoded patriarchal structures and... [continues for some time]

Don Alfonso: Anyone want some hash tea?


Naffness aside, is there any demand for 'hiphopera' whatsoever?

Contrary to what the Glyndebourne people might claim, 'hiphopera' isn't broadening the appeal of opera, it's narrowing it. Hiphopera is unlikely to be of any interest to the rap/ hip hop aficionado, nor is it likely to be of interest to fans of more traditional opera.

Hiphopera demonstrates the crushing lack of imagination that afflicts fogeyish organisations like opera companies when they try to update an art form or genre of music. Don't bother with anything genuinely creative, just shoehorn an existing work into some spurious contemporary 'street' setting.

If you want to see the difference between a predictable contemporary updating of a subject, and genuine creativity, contrast Baz Luhrmann's 'street' version of Romeo and Juliet with Tom Stoppard's Shakespeare in Love.

They're two different things, obviously. One is a reworking of an existing play, the other is an original text. However, they're both contemporary takes on Shakespeare's work. The big difference is that one is a clever, witty, postmodern take on the life of Shakespeare, complete with plotlines that mimic the Bard's own convoluted plots. The other's just another 'street' version of
Shakespeare: a much less affecting version of West Side Story.

And just another 'street' version of something is what Cosi Fan Tutte is guaranteed to be. Still, we can't wait for Glyndebourne's gangsta version of HMS Pinafore.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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