The rapper and playwright Testament gave a performance with members of the Orchestra of Opera North and the result was stunning. Could it be the world’s first Hip Hopera?
I have to say that even at the tender age of 71 I am quite the fan of rap now that it has evolved into a more serious genre than it was in its infancy when everyone seemed to be jumping on the bandwagon regardless of talent, but that applies to all new types of music. Until yesterday, however, I had been unaware of Testament. Thankfully that situation has now been rectified and I am a fan. There goes his credibility right down the pan!
In keeping with the other offerings in the Connecting Voices season, his performance was concerned with unrequited love. He used to be with a woman who moved on with her life to take an art-related job and is now living in Italy. He runs his record shop in Leeds but, although he loves all kinds of music and is very knowledgable, the business is not doing very well.
One evening a woman enters his shop pulling a shopping trolley and offers him some records. They are not very good so he doesn’t take her up on it. Before she leaves she gives him a piece of advice ‘Don’t look back!’. He later discovers that she has left her shopper so he has a look in it. I will leave the story there.
The whole piece deals with relationships, not only with his lost love or the mystery woman, but with his customers, a DJ from whom he buys his surplus discs, the shopping centre security guard, and most of all, his father and mother.
Testament plays the record shop owner named Orpheus which places the work fair and square in the shadow of the Greek myth. In that, Orpheus is obsessive in his playing of the lyre and in the new version he is constantly playing records or practising his craft as a rapper and beatboxer. The Greek Orpheus was told that he could be reunited with his love on the condition that, once together again, they didn’t look back.
It is not the story which is the point here though it is the showcasing of Testaments talents which are many. Not only does he rap but, being a human beatbox, he accompanies himself whilst doing so. He also indulges in various other genres of music by utilising a sampling desk on which he records his beatbox riffs and then plays them on a loop whilst performing to the backing. In addition to popular music he extends his range to classical having fun with the theme from Antiques Roadshow.
As the show progresses he is gradually joined by seven members of the Orchestra of Opera North. They make their entrances individually on a song by song basis, the first being the harpist who looked really incongruous in the setting but her instrument worked brilliantly with the piece she performed. A kind of hip hop harp. As you would expect, the final piece utilised the whole ensemble.
Testament did make the odd stumble during the spoken narrative but it only made the piece sound more natural. There were some good jokes and a fine piece of acting when the demise of the business, and his life in general, seemed to be imminent.
The credits are as follows:
Voice: Helen Evora
Harp: Celine Saout
Violin: Ian Bone
Trombone: Christian Jones
French Horn: Bob Ashworth
Bassoon: Adam McKenzie
Clarinet: Andrew Mason
Written and Composed by Testament
Directed by Aletta Collins
Additional composition on Hades by Tax Modi
I would recommend that you try to see this work but, if that is not possible, I suggest that you keep your eyes open for future gigs by Testament, he is Leeds-based so there should be one near you when we get to something approaching normal.
I hope that you have got The Message that Testament is a Rapper’s Delight! Signed Stan.
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Photographs by Anthony Robling