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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 15:31 GMT
Hip-hop Mozart's Glyndebourne debut
By Vincent Dowd
BBC World arts correspondent

School 4 Lovers
School 4 Lovers is set on a London Housing Estate
Opera venue Glyndebourne has ventured away from traditional classical works by staging a hip-hop version of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

In putting on School 4 Lovers, organisers at the venue in Sussex, South England hope to attract more young people to Mozart's work - and opera in general - in the 250th anniversary year of his birth.

Cosi fan tutte, Mozart's 1790 original, has gorgeous music and the story, set in Naples, is about two young men devising a loyalty test for their lovers.

In School 4 Lovers, designed and put together by Glyndebourne's education department and the Finnish National Opera, the action takes place on a London housing estate and a lot of the peripheral detail has been left out.

Jessica Walker, who plays Gigi - a leading role known as Fiordiligi in Mozart's work - has one of the more operatic backgrounds among cast members.

"I've been in traditional productions of this where the audience frankly was bored stiff," she says.

"Sometimes I was too. It can be a hard show to enjoy. So why not keep what works and build around it?"

Wolf whistles

In addition to the six leads you get an on-stage orchestra of 20, an excellent rap crew from Hackney called The Lyrical Prophets plus 20 or so young non-professional dancers.

It could be an almighty mess but somehow under director Clare Whistler it works brilliantly in the theatre.

School 4 Lovers
The opera aims to break down prejudices about both opera and hip-hop

The young first-night audience clapped and bellowed and wolf-whistled in a very non-Glyndebourne way.

Music-masters Jonathan Gill and Charlie Parker have added beats to Mozart in a way that means it's more exciting and engaging for anyone under 25 - the people least likely to go to an opera.

Paradise is a songwriter and performer who's playing Big Donnie - Don Alfonso in the original.

He says there's no clash between opera and hip-hop culture: "Those conflicts are just prejudices on both sides.

"People think hip-hop is the dregs or that opera is just elitist. We're bringing the two of them together and it's beautiful."

Glyndebourne receives some money from the Arts Council for education projects and touring but the bulk it raises itself.

Sometimes there can be an aura of PC worthiness to projects like these. When people try to combine high art and street culture sometimes it's more like a collision.

But this time it's gelled.

School 4 Lovers plays at Glyndebourne until 18 March and travels to Helsinki, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia in June.

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