Developed with support from a Jerwood Opera Writing Fellowship
Star-shaped Biscuit is an opera (composition and libretto, approx. 90 minutes) for three singers, five multi-instrumentalists and digital sound composition developed over four years, initially by a Jerwood Opera Writing Fellowship 2008-09.
The opera takes its title from a surrealist object. It emerged from initial research on writer and dandy Raymond Roussel, whose star-shaped box containing a fragment of a biscuit was acquired by Dora Maar, the opera’s protagonist. The development of the opera’s three characters was based on research into the lives, art and writing of photographer, painter and poet, Dora Maar, adventurer William Seabrook and novelist Vernon Lee. Toop investigated the technique of libretto writing selecting short extracts from existing texts by a wide variety of writers to convey fragmented memories and concurrent histories.
A performance version of the work grew from a methodology using digital sound composition as a template for directed improvisation. This was explored through workshops supported by Aldeburgh Music 2009, 2012. The use of a digital sound composition as a basis for improvisation offered a unique technical approach to issues of notation in opera. It refined experimental approaches to directed improvisation first explored during Toop’s AHRC Research Fellowship 2005-2007, an investigation into the impact of digital technology on composition and improvisation.
The opera was first performed as a ‘Faster Than Sound’ project, Aldeburgh Music 2012.
Toop’s essay, ‘Star-shaped Biscuit: haunting, spells, a drowned world’ 2012, extends his research into strategies of using digital technology as a compositional template for improvisation.