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Yorkshire school pupils co-create opera about terrorism

Posted on 9 March 2018

Youngsters affected by the horror of the Manchester Arena bombing have taken part in the making of a new opera exploring extremist violence.

“A Shoe Full of Stars” is about an ordinary teenager who has his world shaken by a terrorist attack. Credit: the Identity Crisis Project.

“A Shoe Full of Stars” involves several children who were friends with one of the victims killed in the bombing last May, which claimed the lives of 22 people, including children.

University of York PhD student Omar Shahryar and award-winning BBC Radio 4 comedy series writer, Ed Harris, have joined forces with North Huddersfield Trust School to perform the opera later this month.

Classical meets grime

The opera, which opens at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield on 21 March, is a melting pot of musical genres including classical, grime and “comedy funk”.

Composer Omar Shahryar, who is studying for a PhD in Music at the University of York, co-wrote the music with the pupils who discussed the impact that terrorism had had on the their lives – from their fears about going to crowded venues to how the public reaction had affected them.


The youngsters, who had little previous musical training, are also taking on singing, dancing and acting roles in the show, alongside professional opera singers.

Omar said: “We are aiming to show how opera can be used to broach sensitive subjects in a safe and engaging way. The students all knew someone who had been affected by terrorism and our discussions drew out themes of listening, hope and tolerance.

“Musically, the pupils were fantastically creative, some of their ideas were much better than mine! I think that people watching the show will be excited by opera and will definitely be amazed by the youngsters.

“A Shoe Full of Stars” is about an ordinary teenager who has his world shaken by a terrorist attack. He is transported to a magical island where nothing is quite as it seems.

The creators of the opera received expert advice from counter-extremism specialists at the Active Change Foundation – a charity that works to prevent young people from falling into paths of extremism.


Omar added: “The inspiration for bringing this opera to life was very personal. Society is becoming increasingly polarised and I’ve experienced first-hand how wary people are of someone with a Muslim name and an Arabic appearance. I wanted to do something to try to reframe the narrative around terrorism.

Entertainment is a great way to engage people with an alternative message about tolerance and unity. People from all areas of society can relate to the themes of the show - it could be about any community.”

The Opera was created through the Identity Crisis Project – a scheme which is run by opera companies Opera Schmopera and Gestalt Arts. Omar, who founded Opera Schmopera in 2016 in a bid to make opera more accessible, now hopes to roll out opera workshops on modern day issues in more schools and community groups.

The opera will be performed at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield on Wednesday 21 March, 2018 and at the Jack Lyons Concert Hall in York on Sunday 25 March 2018. Tickets are available via:

Music for the show will be performed by Dark Inventions ensemble and a panel-discussion of experts and community representatives will take place after each performance.

Media enquiries

Shelley Hughes
Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 323918

About this research

The opera was co-created by Omar Shahryar from the Department of Music. It is funded by Arts Council England, White Rose, Arts and Humanities Research Council, Amati, University of York, International Opera Awards and Omar's crowdfunding campaign.