Swallow the Stars

2014 | a one-man concert opera for baritone, oboe, violoncello, and piano | 35’

Swallow the Stars is a one-man concert opera in five scenes, written for a solo baritone accompanied by oboe, cello, and piano. It follows the true story of Tarrare, a showman and soldier in 18th-century France with an insatiable appetite and the ability to eat nearly anything. Hunger led the otherwise ordinary Tarrare in many curious directions during his short life; his story makes for a classic tall tale, full of tragedy, comedy, oddity, pathos, and disgust.

In each scene, the baritone plays a different central character in Tarrare’s story and recounts a pivotal moment in his life. Scenes 2 and 4 are sung by Tarrare as an optimistic youth and a desperate ex-soldier, respectively; Scene 3 is sung by a power-hungry general, determined to make use of Tarrare’s strange talents; and Scenes 1 and 5 frame the opera from the perspective of the doctor who studies Tarrare and later records his story.

Above all else, Swallow the Stars is born of my love of the tall tale. Tarrare’s extreme, inexplicable hunger immediately struck me as the stuff of legends, cut from the same cloth as the American folk heroes of my childhood and the larger-than-life operatic heroes I love today. Much as these stories, driven equally by fate and human choices, use massive and improbable events as a backdrop for the very human reactions of the characters, Tarrare’s strange-but-true biography sets the stage for an exploration of the three flawed and fascinating men featured in Swallow the Stars. In Tarrare’s case, hunger controls his story far more than any event or character. Tarrare’s central motivation is obviously a literal, physical hunger, but the generals and doctors he meets also hunger, in their own ways, for knowledge, power, status, and control. The three main characters all feed their hunger through different destructive professions-- the surgeon dissects, the general kills, the polyphagist eats-- and in that process blur the lines between necessity, desperation, and greed.

Swallow the Stars was written as a showpiece for Connor Lidell, a baritone with the remarkable vocal range, acting abilities, musical nuance, and exceptional artistic bravery this piece demands. He premiered the piece in February 2015 in Bloomington, IN.

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