What happens when a group of inner-city teenagers are introduced to opera for the first time? This is the question that informs Michael Volpe’s fascinating documentary Hip Hop to Opera. Volpe is the founder and director of Opera Holland Park, and as he says in his introduction to the film one of the biggest problems facing all opera companies and houses is attracting young people. This is what the documentary seeks to address.
Volpe introduces eight teenagers from Archbishop Tenison’s School in south London to opera for the first time. He takes them to a production of Tosca at the Royal Opera House, with plans to then go to performances at Opera Holland Park later in the year (another, much shorter film shows the kids’ reaction to La Traviata (The Fallen Woman, Verdi, 1853) at Opera Holland Park. It’s clear that the kids don’t know what to expect from opera, it’s not something with which they’re familiar, and they’re very sceptical about it; one of the girls comments: “It’s for old people.”
The teenagers meet Simon Shibambu, a bass singer who is part of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, conductor and accompanist Paul Wynn Griffths, and the ROH’s Director of Opera, Oliver Mears. Watching them as they hear Simon sing for the first time is a joy; they appear genuinely impressed, describing the performance as “sublime” and that they were “flabbergasted”.
Their response to Tosca (Puccini, 1900) is equally impressive. The positive reaction to the production is overwhelming: “It sort of blew me away.”
The kids are all intelligent and articulate, providing thoughtful and interesting comment on the experience and their own lives. This short film is really quite wonderful to watch. Will it bring more young people to the opera? Well that remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a good start.
Michael Volpe (far right) introduces eight inner-city teenagers to the Royal Opera House (photo courtesy of Opera Holland Park).
• Price: free
• Run time: 25 minutes
• Directed and edited by Michael Volpe
• Produced by Investec Opera Holland Park
• Watch on YouTube
This short documentary on introducing teenagers to opera for the first time is well worth a watch.