Sunday, August 13, 2017

Steve Jobs Redux

Even before we had seen the new Steve Jobs opera called “(R)evolution of Steve Jobs” my wife suggested that I should write about it. My reaction was, “Why should I?” I thought it would be very contemporary atonal music, which I usually hate and, even though I was definitely curious, I had just written about Jobs a couple of weeks ago.

Seeing the opera, however, I was totally bowled over. It has wonderful music, sometimes amusing and sometimes gut-wrenching lyrics and is produced in not only an original manner, but one that works perfectly!  From me it gets 5 stars!! 

The music is by Mason Bates and the libretto is by Mark Campbell.  It was co-commissioned with Seattle Opera and San Francisco Opera.  This is no surprise since Jobs lived and worked in the area.  The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music joined them as co-producers.  The world premier was right here at the Santa Fe Opera.

The conductor on the night we went was Michael Christie.  As was written by John Stege in our local weekly magazine, The Santa Fe Reporter, “Bate’s score works just fine on several levels.  Forget the fearsome, distant electronic days… Bates offers and performs a kinder, gentler use of electronica that works right along with his multi-hued and often brilliant orchestral patterns.”

At the beginning of the opera a 10 year old boy is given a work table made for him by his father so he will have, “a place to take things apart and put them together again”.  Panels that serve for projections, often of circuit boards, slide back and forth as the characters move along.  Soon a grown Jobs takes the boy’s place.  If you force me to critique anything it is that the plot jumps back and forth in Job’s short life from 1955 to 2011 and it is sometimes difficult to keep track.  Still by the time it is over, you feel you understand the story of his life.  Here is Edward Parks as Steve Jobs and Jonah Sorenson as the young Jobs.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

The opera gets going with an aria or really a song called “Tap, tap, tap” which imitates all of us pressing on the icons on our iPhones.  I believe I forgot to mention how good the entire cast was!  We have heard wonderful voices in the past and sometimes they were good actors as well, but one usually picks them out individually.  In this performance we found all were good in both categories and some excelled.  The chorus is made up of Santa Fe Opera apprentices who in other productions sometimes have been given solo roles.  Opera companies from all over come in the summer to hear then sing and make some choices.  A bit like job interviews at major universities.  Steve Jobs and the Santa Fe Opera Chorus.

Photo Credit; Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

Every story comes from a different point of view: my Missive, “Fearless Genius” dealt with Jobs creativity from the positive perception of the photographer Doug Menuez; the opera has a far more personal and in some ways tragic point of view.  In fact my wife and I were both in tears by the time it was over.  The part of Laurene, Job’s wife, was played by Sasha Cooke, a fabulous mezzo-soprano and actor, though I would prefer actress, because she symbolized the most wonderful strong but sympathetic wife!  Others who stood out were Job’s original partner Steve Wozniak, Garrett Sorenson and Jobs’ Zen Priest, Kobun Otogawa sung by Wei Wu.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

If you want quite contrary thoughts on the same opera we saw, read the New York Times review. It is hard to believe that Zachary Woolfe, the author of this piece, saw the same production. We stayed until the last hand was clapped.  It was at least a five-minute standing ovation with more Bravos, Bravas and Bravis than I have ever heard in Santa Fe.  Mr. Woolfe seems to also believe that people are either all black or all white.  I read the same book he did by Walter Isaacson revealing Steve Jobs as an often insensitive SOB who clearly had another extremely charismatic way of enveloping people and having many totally devoted to him.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

I have gone to an awful lot of opera in my 70 plus years, starting with Aida in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome when I was 11.  I can honestly say I have been bored out of my skull by many operas since.  However, when you see and hear an opera put together so expertly with music, story line and performers at their best, and even an amazing set that cast and stage crew slide through effortlessly, for me it counts as a success and wonderful evening!

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