Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

The New Sounds of Fall

From African hip-hop to the National Opera's audacious La Boheme, fresh rhythms have Washington moving to a different beat

Michael ClementsThey were two supposedly similar worlds. When they collided, they were two worlds, literally and figuratively, two worlds apart. On one side, Diddy's entourage, decked out head-to-toe in matching white outfits, accessorized in enough gold j ewelry to make a Pharaoh blush, their attitudes hidden behind smoky reflective lenses.

On the other side, Emmanuel Jal. Sudanese child soldier turned international hip-hop star (Blood Diamond Soundtrack and Moby collaboration), dressed in a casual tee-shirt, pumas and relaxed jeans; no sunglasses — it was nighttime after all. The soft-spoken Jal had just finished a sound check for his 18th Street Films/ WL-sponsored Sept. 20th concert at Ibiza Night Club. As Diddy et al. rolled up for the Sean John fall fashion show, they ignored Jal — with cell phones pressed coolly to their ears, they had no idea they had just passed the future of hip-hop.

Don't get me wrong — I'm not crowning Jal "king of hip-hop." It's more about the direction the message of the art form is taking. Much like Bob Marley, Jal's songs are conscious social and political commentaries — minus the gangsta self-aggrandizing. It reminds me of a Chinese proverb; take a glass jar and filled it halfway with marbles, shake it, and it makes a lot of noise.Take the same jar, fill it to the top with marbles, shake it, and it makes no sound. Get it, grasshopper?

There was a lot of noise surrounding GQ's "50 most powerful people in D.C." event at Cafe Mlano in September. Washington — the red-headed stepchild to the powerful New York media machine — was graced by publishing demigods Conde Nast Publications, who inform us that 24 of the 50 individuals on the GQ power list descended upon the event — it's highly debatable. Franco, we love you, and we realize this was supposed to be a "hot event," but

please, could you turn on the air conditioning next time? I can't recall an event in Manhattan or Beverly Hills where I ever dehydrated from sweating. Maybe it's an Italian thing; I don't know In retrospect, the evening should have been called GQ's "Washington's 50 most commonly sighted media types: a night of sweat, hot air and finger food." Count me guilty as charged. If not for The Examiner and Media Bistro's Patrick Gavin and his well-documented encounter with a finger-waving Canadian lass, the night would have passed in a New York minute.

Polish director Mariusz Trelinsk's contemporary interpretation of Puccini's classicopera La Boheme had enough men in drag, street walkers and Matrix-meets-Vegas costuming to keep the Kennedy Center hot in the coldest days of winter. Placido Domingo might be feeling some heat from traditional opera fans for the out-of-the-box interpretation. The Post's Tom Page panned it, noting its unconventional use of a "bumpy video projection" and "slangy supertitles" among other issues. Interestingly, on its website,WNO cites a positive comment from Page (he had a few) — Washingtonians do love their spin. (Again, guilty as charged.)

I enjoyed the interpretation. Vittorio Grigolo's Rodolfo and Emmanuel Villaume's orchestration were all that you would expect of an international-caliber performance at the Kennedy Center; Korean baritone and former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Hyung Yun (Marcello) nearly stole the show with a sensitive and steady performance; the staging was innovative and daring; and, hey, there was a gorilla, an Elvis impersonator, bozo the clown, and the Indian from the Village People on stage as well — what more could you ask for?

Was this opera? Perhaps for Page and a few glassy-eyed ticket holders, it wasn't. But for the hundreds of high school and college kids who saw that "bumpy video" and read those "slangy supertitles" via the WNO's ground-breaking simulcast of La Boheme, this is opera. The WNO fed the Sept. 23rd performance to 32 schools across the country, as well as on the National Mall and in select Washington movie theaters. If there was ever an production that was going to create a new generation of opera enthusiasts, this is it.

The WNO is also working with HUD to introduce the world of opera, including its employment opportunities, to families living in publicand assisted housing across the country. Perhaps the gorilla and Elvis impersonator are something that the late Luciano Pavarotti — a humble baker's son -would have appreciated,

Readers wishing to get in touch with Michael can email: letters@washingtonlife.com.




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