Spotlight Feature - Elliot Yokum and Sarah Florence Barker


Welcome back to Spotlight Sundays! We can't believe our spring production of Folxtales featuring three family-friendly chamber operas is on two weeks away. We invite you to join us on Saturday, June 4 at 3pm at the Charter Oak Cultural Center and on Sunday, June 5 at 3pm at the Hill-Stead Museum. Tickets are on sale for both locations and can be purchased through our website. We hope you're planning to join us for a memorable weekend of new operas for families. Today we're thrilled to introduce the composer and librettist behind our second featured opera: Starsong. We are delighted introduce you to composer Elliot Yokum and librettist Sarah Florence Barker. We were honored to present their opera Starsong as a part of our 10th annual New in November festival in 2019. We hope you enjoy learning about Elliot, Sarah, their opera, and what Opera for the 22nd Century means to them.

 

Elliot Yokum (b. 1996) is an Armenian-American composer and sound designer. Elliot's artistic practice currently investigates the intersection of music, performance, and intimacy. Their music has been performed and recorded by Hartford Opera Theater, Compos-It Opera Company, Oklahoma State University Symphony Orchestra, Carpe Diem String Quartet, and Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic. Elliot holds an MFA in Sound Design from the CalArts School of Theater and a BFA in Music Composition from the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music.


To learn more about Elliot and their music, visit their website: elliotyokum.com


Here is what Elliot wants HOTOpera fans to know about Starsong :

Starsong is a modern fairytale about queer loneliness and the importance of found family. Sarah and I wrote it to be the fairytale we wish we'd had when we were kids. It means the world to me, and I hope you all enjoy it!


Here is what Elliot had to say about Opera for the 22nd Century:

Opera for the 22nd Century to me is about treading new ground. It's about letting historically underrepresented people tell their own stories and showcase their own styles of musicmaking. It's about building and fostering a community of performers, composers, and audience, who each become an equal part of the storytelling process.


Here are five fun-facts about Elliot that are not in their bio:


1. Their in a band called the garages! They play synths and keytar.

2. They have a rescue cat named Chloe.

3. Their an avid fan of the 2000s teen soap opera Degrassi: The Next Generation.

4. They picked up writing over the pandemic and particularly love to write interactive fiction.

5. One time in grad school they did a presentation where they described their reasoning for setting The Magic Flute in a stereotypical fraternity house... which they punctuated by shotgunning a beer in front of the class.


 

Sarah Florence Barker is a writer, poet, and classically trained soprano. Having recently completed her BFA in Vocal Performance at Carnegie Mellon University, with a minor in Creative Writing, Barker is now working on her MM in Voice at Mannes School of Music and searching for the next big idea. A native of Carroll County, Maryland, Barker has been enamored with music and storytelling since early childhood. She began formal voice study at age 13 and quickly became enamored with classical styles of music. She began writing far earlier, using the art of poetry and short story to depict the beauty and mystique she saw in the world around her. But then, of course, she discovered fantasy and took a sidetrack to work on writing the same high fantasy series for nine years running... watch for Feilan hitting bookshelves in 2029, if we’re lucky! She first began to combine the art forms during her undergrad, creating a song cycle titled ‘DAWN’ out of old poetry from high school for her senior recital. Starsong is her first real libretto.


Here is what Sarah wants HOTOpera fans to know about Starsong :

What do I want my fans to know about Starsong? The really think it speaks for itself! The early nucleus of the idea struck me out of nowhere and I fell in love with it and was lucky enough to convince Elliot to collaborate with me and give it life. If I remember correctly, I proposed the idea by sending them a Facebook message asking if they wanted to write a gay star opera with me, and then I cried when they said yes because I was so excited to work with them. I’m not sure I ever told them about that part, haha. We had just a couple basic rules—it’s gotta be gay, and it’s gotta be happy. Starsong is my love letter to all the things people seem to think opera isn’t allowed to be. It just makes me really, really happy, and I’m so excited to share it with the world. I hope it makes you happy too. I like to think we did a pretty good job on it!


Here is what Sarah had to say about Opera for the 22nd Century:

Opera for the 22nd century is opera for everyone. It’s opera that understands us, and opera that’s meant to be understood. You get all these preconceived notions about what opera is, what it can be, what it’s supposed to mean—and all of us have these ideas! Even those of us who perform these works of art, who supposedly give them the final spark that brings them to life!—and those ideas grow and grow until they define the art form for people who have never even experienced it. People play opera outside convenience stores to scare off loiterers (the grocery store down the street from me is always blasting Puccini when I walk by). Our stereotype of this art is a bunch of snobby old people with binoculars playing dress-up and bemoaning the fact that we don’t live in 1790 anymore. When I finally got my dad to come see a show when I was performing in the chorus, the first thing he said afterwards was “wow, I didn’t know opera could be funny,” and honestly? That’s a shame! Opera’s not dead, and I refuse to believe that it’s dying, but we’re at a juncture where we can keep clinging to these ancient preconceptions of dying sopranos and park-and-bark and boring pretty music… or we can tell stories bold enough to prove them wrong. New stories, for a new age, that invoke the soul of the old but the spirit of the future. I’m not in the camp of people who want a total reset on everything, death to the classic rep, burn it all down... I love singing Handel too much to ever commit to that... but I think we need a new breath of life. There are a lot of stories that classic opera’s hiding from. It’s part of why I’m drawn to telling stories as much as I am performing them—I want to tell the stories I wish I’d been told years ago. Stories that I can see myself in (and that I can perform in!! I can’t help but feel that my career as a coloratura soprano would be so much easier if the standard ratio for opera roles wasn’t something like 5 men for every one woman). That’s what opera for the 22nd century is for me, it’s opera that tells stories Mozart and co. just… wouldn’t have ever thought about. Stories about women, and queer people (apart from the obvious themes in Starsong, I like to think our Star is femme nonbinary, because gendering celestial bodies is silly!), and stories that are positive, and stories about love that’s worth it, and stories where nobody’s evil—they just don’t quite understand. Sometimes that’s what we need: stories where everyone means well, and things go right for once. Stories that remind us that it’s going to be okay. Stories that inspire us to look forward to what the 22nd century holds, instead of look back wondering why things went so wrong. Stories that inspire us to build that promising future for ourselves.


And to boil the sentiment behind that whole tirade down to one run-on sentence: if nobody else wants to give me an actual heartfelt emotionally complex coloratura bit to sing, I’m gonna darn well take it into my own hands and make one myself (ok, lies, I’ll beg Elliot to help first) and the 17 zillion 2-dimensional ingénues in the standard rep can fight me personally.


Here are five fun-facts about Sarah that are not in her bio:


1. She has a supernatural talent for finding 4-leaf clovers. Her family at this point isn’t even impressed when she turns up with one!

2. She was on her high school’s varsity field hockey team all four years, and she's still proud of herself.

3. She likes to tell people her dream role is Adele in Der Fledermaus (coloratura! goals!!) but her real dream role is to originate a part in a new opera that’ll grow up to be a repertoire standard! Can you imagine being the equivalent of the first Susanna or Gilda? She can—it’s played a part in more daydreams than she can list.

4. She has a big collection of succulents, all named after famous operatic leading ladies.

5. Outside of the realm of classical music, she's a big fan of Panic! at the Disco, Phildel, and Lorde.

 

Thank you for tuning in to our Spotlight series featuring Elliot, Sarah and their opera: Starsong. Follow our social media pages this week to learn more about Folxtales, our all-star cast and creative team, and the Folxtales operas. We began rehearsals last week and can't wait to continue our musical and dramatic preparations for this accessible operatic event like no other. Make sure to purchase your TICKETS for Folxtales so you don't miss out on this event for children and the young at heart.

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