Aug 2008



The power of fairy tales resides deep in our minds. When we hear a fairy tale, that power engages us – young and old alike can be spellbound by it. The timeless nature of a fairy tale compels their recounting, generation after generation. Lesser stories do not stand the test of time. If a single generation does not find the story compelling enough to tell, the story withers and dies. Wonderfully, stories that survive dozens of generations of re-telling become increasingly accessible to all cultures and walks of life, even in the most remote and provincial setting. That constant modification and strengthening of a story told through time is called “folk process”.

Starboy is based on a fairy tale recounted by the Xerente Indians who inhabit the upper Amazon jungles. The tale is re-told in a book by Jungian Psychologist, Marie-Louise von Franz. Von Franz recognized the universal nature of fairy tales and found they could be mapped to ways the human psyche might develop. Some stories map to “successful” development and some to “unsuccessful” psychological development. “Successful” fairy tales often follow the protagonist through a whole series of tests that they pass in order to end “happily ever after.” Jack and the Beanstalk is a popular example of a “successful” fairy tale. Jack had to go up the stalk three times and deal with giants. “Unsuccessful” fairy tales present how fate and poor decisions lead a protagonist to death. In Von Franz’s interpretation, “Death” in a fairy tales maps to the halt of psychological development, perhaps illuminating how adults can remain immature in certain aspects.

From a production standpoint, “unsuccessful” fairy tales work best for short operas. The original stories tend to be shorter and there are fewer required set changes. Short operas based on fairy tales are likely, then, to be dark. The story-receiver’s imagination can effortlessly invest its own interpretation with intense radiance or ultimate evil. For example, when narrated, a fairy tale kindles the imagination to forge its own settings and faces in the story. But, a stage production of what naturally lives in the imagination resists such highly concentrated projections. It “plays them out,” expanding the abstract fairy tale into an instance of a “real” life-story, substituting ready-made visuals for the audiences’ personal constructions much in the same way that written stories might lose essential qualities when adapted to a visual setting such as a film or TV. A fairy-tale opera is a balancing act in a field of tension created between the opposing dynamics of magic and particular reality.

The electronic music score presented sounds that were new, thus shorn of previous associations or stereotypes, that helped to create a completely new set of associations. The spatially immersive presentation of the music around the audience in surround-sound was an important element of reaching that goal.  Yet, musical clichés could also be employed at will by the composer that could bubble up out of the strange musical fabric, when deemed advantageous.


Our overall goal in Starboy was to present the Xerente folk tale to high school age (and older) audiences in a way that would resonate with the magical space that lives in our imaginations yet stay within a very small production budget to allow frequent mountings. A “Pocket Opera” that would require only 4 singer/actors, a cellist and a conductor who could move the entire production within a van with a small trailer.

The goal of the 2004 “Opera Preview” was to explore the sonic viability

of the proposed portable production elements using two singers performing four songs in first-draft versions with the pre-recorded surround electronics. The missing plot would be filled in by the librettist, Kevin Lay, telling the story from the stage. There was no control of the music score outside of starting and stopping the track at that time.
Length: 50-55 minutes


4 singers, amplified

  • Starboy, male – tenor
  • Star, female – soprano
  • Chief, male – bass/baritone
  • Warrior, male, baritone
    (Chorus: role of singers off/side stage)


Conductor (additionally, takes care of tech set up)



Star – luminescent battery powered fabric – white/blue, face sparkles
Starboy – Green jungle and Black; face – design of black/green/natural skin
Warrior – Xerente Red/Black; spear, tribal/ open chest
Chief – Full costume and headdress; many colors/ impressive in size



(songs marked with * were included in Opera Preview in their first-draft form without cello). Titles are placeholders and may change.

Pre-show Ambience (music only – not conducted)

  1. Lightning takes the Sorcerers, Chief and Warrior
  2. Growing Up in the Dark, (chorus)
  3. Dear Star, Starboy* [SCORE]
  4. The Bottle Ritual, Star and Starboy* [SCORE]
  5. Star Falls, Star and Chorus
  6. Second Meeting, Star and Starboy* [SCORE]
  7. Love and War Drums, Star, Starboy, Warrior
  8. Meeting the Chief, Starboy, Warrior and Chief
  9. Third Meeting, Star and Starboy
  10. Hero, Starboy and Chorus
  11. Boasting, Starboy and Chorus* [SCORE]
  12. Starboy Climbs to Star, Star, Starboy and Chorus

Post-show Ambience (music-only – not conducted)

The music would be pre-assembled by the composer. A conductor would face the stage (in front of the audience). The conductor would wield a special custom fabricated baton that would both guide the singers in the traditional way and at the same time control the music playback and tempi.

A single cellist would be added to the performance group and music to provide a richer musical element. The cellist would be on-stage, off-set, positioned far right or left and softly lit with traditional stage lights (if available). A microphone would send cello signal to the sound system for amplification and optional acoustic processing.


Stage props:

Chief’s hut
Starboy’s hut
Silver tree – appears at the end, climbable to Star’s higher position

If a scrim is available in front of stage, Star’s live video image could be projected upon it during the performance. Thus Star never materializes.


Front Projection Mapping on two 16ft x 9 ft Flat Screens, joined side by side. Computer supplies signal to Two 4K projectors. Images portray all necessary visual cues, visual efx, and actor lighting.


A standard surround system with the following adaption:
The center channel is not heard by the audience, but feeds a speaker on stage that is used to provide musical cues (pitch, click, etc) for the singers. This would leave the other channels to provide a 4 channel quadrophonic with a Low Frequency Effects channel. The LFE could be placed anywhere in the performance space. The 4 channels would be spaced as a large square that surrounds the audience. Signal from the singers’ microphones would be mixed into the front (L, C and R) channels.



September 15, 2003
Starboy – 5.1 music score performance and discussion
Location: Full Sail, Winter Park , Florida
January 16, 2004
Starboy: An Opera Preview: for 2 singers and surround electronic music
Location: Full Sail Live Auditorium, Winter Park, FL
Artists: Janette Zilioli, soprano. Aaron Pegram, tenor. Keith Lay, 5.1 surround electronics
November 10, 2012
The Accidental Music Festival and the Central Florida Composers Forum : “Ghost in the Machine” concert
Location: Timucua White House  Orlando, FL
Artists: Michele Amato, soprano, Sean Stork, baritone. Keith Lay, 5.1 surround electronics with Wii-mote tempo control

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *