Review: Hip Hop To Opera on BBC iPlayer

I started watching Opera Holland Park’s Hip Hop To Opera at 11.27 this morning. I was ‘properly’ crying by 11.32.

The 25-minute programme tells the story of what happened when a group of teenagers at an inner-city London school were exposed to opera for the first time packs a punch. It is a must watch.

The last opera-related preview I received, I was subsequently advised by the person who invited me), was extended to me in the belief that I hated opera. I couldn’t quite work out whether the person in question was having a laugh at my expense telling me, whether it was part of an elaborate process to expose me to a greater range of culture, or whether the invitation was a twisted joke.

That’s how some use opera – as a weapon – to belittle, or self-aggrandise. Few actually meet opera head on. Nor, encourage others to do the same.

I was reminded of all this watching Hip Hop to Opera. Seeing young people experiencing opera positively has had an unexpected effect on me. Hip Hop to Opera renews my faith in the next generation. (Obviously, what that really means is that I posessed a negative view of the negative generation. Where does that come from? I can only assume it comes from the media.)

The programme also triggers a wave of relief too: this art form is appreciated by newcomers. All that broadcast-related stuff drilled into digital content producers about young people only being prepared to watch 90-second content is (partially) laid to rest.

But all that only partially explains the sobbing. What’s most powerful in the programme is the immediacy of the personalities. They don’t say a huge amount. They don’t need to. Everything about them – their openness, warmth, intellect, willingness and curiosity is communicated through their eyes. Their eyes sparkle. Their smiles are wide. They put the rest of us to shame.

And the power of the eyes is everything. Last year in Kathmandu when I was making a film about a disabled children’s charity there I struggled to reconcile the plight and chaos around me with the love I saw in all the kids I pointed the camera at. At the beginning of this week, producing some material for a client, I filmed the work of an English Speaking Unit in Rusholme where refugees learn about work-related English language. There I saw vulnerability, isolation and fear in people’s eyes. They didn’t tell me about it. They can’t speak much English. I saw it in their eyes.

So it is with Hip Hop to Opera. The emotion is at the forefront. The sentiment. Which is neat. Because that’s exactly the point Michael Volpe (General Manager of Opera Holland Park) is making in the programme to his guests and to us the viewers.

Of course, one of the most powerful reasons the programme has so much impact isn’t only because of the contributors but because of the rapport the director and interviewer has with the people he’s speaking to. Meaning what we see on screen is a reflection of the spirit of each relationship. And its Volpe who does the lot, including the editing at the end. The finished product reflects the very art form the man loves; the art form he’s advocating.

This programme comes highly-recommended. It speaks to me in the way I like to work. It reflects the stance me and associates of mine who advocate classical music and opera have adopted. It demonstrates neatly what is involved in capturing emotion on camera, and shows how you don’t need big resources deployed to produce such content.

But more than any of this, it neatly reinforces the point I made to Opera Holland Park’s marketing team when I sat in a windowless meeting room with them earlier in the week talking about why OHP as a brand resonated with me. “It’s accessible, it’s honest, it’s authentic,” I said, watching the people in front of me furiously scribble in their notebooks. “OHP lacks pretension, but still conjures up a magical sense of occasion at every single performance. I don’t think that’s a miracle. I imagine that can only be an extension of the personalities of its management.”

I hadn’t watched Hip Hop To Opera until this morning. Turns out I was right on the nose.

Hip Hop To Opera is available via BBC iPlayer or YouTube

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3 thoughts to “Review: Hip Hop To Opera on BBC iPlayer”

  1. I am the headteacher of the school attended by these 8 students. We are a school that has had some struggles over the last two years but what is so often not captured by inspections and the like is the spirit, the heart and soul, of the community. These eight youngsters come across well thanks hugely to the wonderful rapport that Michael Volpe developed with them, allowing them to come out of themselves and take these risks.
    But the essence of their characters that he reveals are ones that have been forged by their relationships with their families, their friends, their communities and, most importantly, the values and experiences of their schooling.
    There are many youngsters out there that are poorly judged by a media that just wants crude stereotypes. What those of us working in schools know is that we can be confident that the next generation will care for our society in the same way that we have tried to do.

    1. Thanks for commenting Jim. I concur. It’s rapport that brings out the innate personality. They are people who will do great work in the world. They’re also a testament to the work of you and your colleagues.

  2. I’m flattered Jim, (and Jon) so thank you.
    Truth is, they brought out the best in me, too. I had an email from the daughter of my headmaster of my school. She said that the film evoked a strong sense of Woolverstone Hall and that is quite the compliment. I think many of the students in the film would have fitted in there perfectly.

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