Catherine Asaro is a person of formidable accomplishment. A physicist with a PhD from Harvard, she has written twenty novels in her “Saga of the Skolian Empire” science fiction series as well as eleven other novels, and several novellas and short stories.
She has won Hugo and Nebula awards. She has served as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She also sings and dances, and has recorded CDs with her regular collaborators, Baltimore’s Point Valid. In addition, she has written on complex variables and the theory of special relativity for the American Journal of Physics. She is currently a visiting professor at the University of Maryland.
I recite these impressive credentials in mitigation of, and perhaps to balance, my confession of this unhappy judgment: The Diamond Star Project has been the worst experience I have yet had at this year’s Fringe.
The Diamond Star Project is Dr. Asaro’s attempt to translate one of her novels, “Diamond Star,” into a rock opera. The music is almost uniformly bland; the story is implausible; and Dr. Asaro’s vocals, once they wander outside of her five-note range, are almost unbearable.
I cannot reproduce the music or vocals (nor would I want to) but I can tell you a little about the story. Del is a prince of the Ruby Dynasty, which has apparently taken it on the chin from the Aristos. He is mortally wounded but cryogenically suspended until, fifty years later, medical society is adequate to the task of bringing him back to life. He takes refuge on Earth (where his true identity is known only to a few world leaders) and decides to pursue a career as a rock star.
Eventually, though, he realizes his destiny is to reclaim the sovereignty of the Ruby Dynasty from the Aristos, and toward that end he pens an anthemic rock song and sings it, rousing earthlings from their apathy and into true alliance with the Ruby Dynasty.
Well. All stories contain a certain amount of exposition, so that the audience can understand why the characters are in their present dilemmas, but science fiction bears a special burden of exposition, so the audience can also understand what their worlds are like.
Dr. Asaro reads two extensive passages from her novel and they sound like nothing but exposition. One involves Del’s agent and the music company’s manager arguing about a particular phrase in one of his songs; the other has Del on his back, remembering the past. There is not a single unanticipated thought or imaginative phrase in either of them. Indeed, they invoke the hoariest of science fiction tropes, including the one that begins “back in prehistoric times…” and then describes some event which is current today.
When one writes a story in which a stirring piece of music by a brilliant musician inspires a world to action, and then writes the music which had that effect, one must be careful to write only brilliant, stirring, inspiring music. Del (and by extension, Dr. Asano) must be a better writer than, for example, Paul McCartney, or Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Mozart, none of whom caused a revolution with their music.
I regret to report that, based on what I heard in the Fringe show, neither Del nor his creator reach this high mark.
Notwithstanding what appears to me to be a failed evening, there are some good spots. Some of the vocals are performed by the operatic Carolyn Powers, who, with Seth Polansky, make up the DC duo blindtillnow. Her voice, sweet and powerful, adds resonance to the songs, at least one of which was written by blindtillnow. Powers is particularly good in singing “Dido’s Lament,” an electronic adaptation of an aria from the opera Dido and Aeneas.
The Diamond Star Project features a competent band (Greg Adams, Darrell Dunning, Alex Weber and Lloyd Moore), and Dr. Asaro’s daughter, Cathy Cannizzo, does a flawless (though necessarily limited by the Warehouse’s space) dance during “Starlight Child”, a song Del writes for his children and Dr. Asaro, she says, wrote for hers.
Throughout this unfortunate performance, the work of Lloyd Moore is a consistent high point. Moore, an extremely versatile guitarist with a bright, easy style has several solos throughout, to the show’s considerable advantage.
I would not voluntarily go to The Diamond Star Project again, but I will be happy to go to Bill’s Music, where Moore occasionally plays, the next time I am in Catonsville.