Song cycle Stardust explores race and tokenism in society

A new mul­ti-for­mat arts pro­duc­tion explor­ing race and tokenism in soci­ety will pre­miere online this December.

The Helios Opera will present Star­dust, by com­pos­er Felix Jar­rar and fan­ta­sy writer B L Fox­ley, on Decem­ber 4 as a tick­et­ed online stream. Sub­se­quent screen­ings, co-host­ed by a vari­ety of affin­i­ty groups, will fol­low later.

Star­dust is a col­lec­tion of songs described as “part music video, part song cycle, and part con­cept album” that explores the chal­lenges of racial iden­ti­ty and self-crit­i­cism, and the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of nature.

This work is the debut stage pro­duc­tion for British-Niger­ian writer B L Fox­ley

“Writ­ing is my escape from real­i­ty and where I step into the worlds I cre­ate,” she told Fringe Fre­quen­cy. “I orig­i­nal­ly wrote the poems as part of my Mas­ters degree in Cre­ative Writ­ing to weave togeth­er the world I live in, the hes­i­tance we expe­ri­ence with­in our­selves, and my love for fan­ta­sy fiction.

Star­dust is almost a jour­ney into my writ­ing process set to beau­ti­ful music. I chose the name in trib­ute to the first sto­ry I wrote as an eight-year-old, called A Fall­en Star.”

The mon­odra­ma will fea­ture sopra­no Vic­to­ria Davis (Wash­ing­ton Nation­al Opera June­teenth Cel­e­bra­tion). Pales­tin­ian-Sir Lankan com­pos­er Jar­rar (Sym­pho­ny Space, Le Pois­son Rouge) will serve as music direc­tor and col­lab­o­ra­tive pianist. And John de los San­tos has just been con­firmed as stage direc­tor. The team mem­bers are work­ing remote­ly from their respec­tive homes in Boston, Brook­lyn, Hous­ton, and London.

Speak­ing about the music, Jar­rar said: “I was drawn to writ­ing Star­dust because, in B L Foxley’s text, I could see my own child­hood expe­ri­ences with racism relate to being my own worst ene­my as a self-crit­i­cal musi­cian, and find an escape into a fan­ta­sy world with a pow­er­ful fem­i­nine figure.”

When asked how it feels to see com­posers and per­form­ers bring­ing her words to life on stage, Fox­ley said: “I’ve always loved how music tran­scends race, gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, and class. Peo­ple con­nect to lyrics, drum beats, and piano notes like an organ liv­ing out­side their body that they can share with every­one around them. Mak­ing music out of my poet­ry excites me beyond belief.

“I love that 2020 has seen so many shows live-streamed and con­nect­ing with a wider audi­ence. It’s inspir­ing that Star­dust could be what intro­duces some­one to the world of poet­ry, opera and theatre.”

Star­dust is the sec­ond offer­ing to come out of Helios’s Mod­u­lar Opera Project (MOP), which was cre­at­ed in response to the Coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. The opera house is work­ing with cre­atives and per­form­ers to pro­duce work in their own homes and deliv­er new musi­cal sto­ry­telling expe­ri­ences to audi­ences around the world.

Theodo­ra Cottarel, chief cre­ative offi­cer at Helios Opera, said: “When Felix pro­posed this project, we knew it was the right next step for MOP. We have been fans of his work for sev­er­al years and we believe the future of the opera indus­try lies in devel­op­ing and pro­mot­ing the work of tal­ent­ed young artists from tra­di­tion­al­ly under­rep­re­sent­ed backgrounds.”

With this in mind, 10 per cent of all pro­ceeds from tick­et sales will be donat­ed to Col­or of Change, the US’s largest online racial jus­tice organisation.

Star­dust pre­mieres on Decem­ber 4 at 20:00 EST.

Tick­ets for Star­dust will be $15.00 and will go on sale from Novem­ber 10 via Ten per cent of all pro­ceeds from tick­et sales will be donat­ed to Col­or of Change.

Image: Helios Opera