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Performance Sun Oct 03 2010
Francesco Milioto certainly knows opera--and he knows hip hop, too. Here, the co-founder and conductor of the New Millennium Orchestra talks about Hip Hopera, the fusion of two musical genres, the importance of musical education, and his dream to work with a certain Grammy-award winning hip hop artist.
When did you realize rap and opera could be fused--was it a particular song you heard or a hip hop artist you were already a fan of?
I'm a big fan of hip hop and I paid close attention when Beyonce did Carmen: A Hip Hopera. The rhythm in some of the music we play in a standard operatic repertoire, especially the things that we were sort of infusing the "hip hopera" in, really work very well. We've been doing this a little while with the New Millennium Orchestra. It's been a few years now that the idea has been jumping around in our heads. It's not brand new. It works.
How would you address skeptics who feel the two genres couldn't (or shouldn't) be merged, especially since they are from two distinct and separate worlds?
What I would say to those people is that it depends on how you present it. This is purposefully meant to attract a person of a certain age. And anybody that knows me knows I have the highest level of integrity and defend classical musical all day, everyday. But I also know it's important to present this to young people in a way that they will understand and will remember.
So it's really about delivery and presentation.
Exactly. The way I do it doesn't take away from hip hop or from opera. I'm very careful that I know what I'm doing and how to explain it. These kids are going to leave with a good sense of what opera is and how fun it is, and for us, it's also about the journey of the New Millennium Orchestra. I have all kinds of talented and versatile people in the group who are not one-dimensional people. It's really a no-brainer; I can combine any style of music and it is going to work for me, so why not do it in a way that focuses on opera?
Have you heard or read anything from hip hop artists about the show?
Max Glascott, the DJ we've been working with, loves what we're doing. Also, when I sat down with Diverse, the rapper that will be featured in our final piece, he was over the moon at the idea.
Do you have a dream hip-hop artist you'd love to collaborate with?
If I could work with Eminem, I would be over the moon! It would be ridiculous! On another note, I can't even tell you how sad I am that Michael Jackson is dead, I mean, if there was ever any one person on Earth I would have loved to have my orchestra on stage with...
That would have been pretty awesome. Anybody from Chicago?
Well, we're from Chicago, so even if we got Kanye West, too... I've played for R. Kelly before--at the private "Happy People" CD release party at his house. He's a really nice guy and his feel and style of music really lends itself to orchestra as well. I'd love to work with him again. But back to Eminem--if you throw me up there with him, we will give you some hot stuff! We would tear that up!
What has the reaction about Hip Hopera been from kids?
The reaction has been pretty darn good. We were invited back immediately to the Harris Theater for this concert. I anticipate a pretty good turnout. I've got four of the best singers I know, a great band, made all the arrangements myself, and I'll be conducting from the piano and narrating the show.
It's great to get kids involved in different or new things.
Yes! And the show is completely educational. They will leave with a completely positive sense of what opera and classical music is, and what it can and should be. I mean, I don't have to play a Beethoven symphony over and over to show that classical music is cool and that it's not just for old people!
What will the audience see at Hip Hopera? What message do you want to give?
The audience will see opera in a classic and modern way. And the message is that classical music, whether it's opera, symphonic or chamber music, is not just one-dimensional. There are people who are musicians, rappers, singers, actors, and dancers, who do everything. They're allowed to do all these things in Hollywood and well, this is my Hollywood.
Hip Hopera , part of the Harris Theater Family Series, will run at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Dr., on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 2pm. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online or at the box office. Contact 312.334.7777 for more information.