We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Kevin Newbury, Mark Campbell, and Mason Bates

This summer, Santa Fe Opera will present the premiere of a new opera--The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.  We have already lined up tickets. This is surprising given our disappointment in contemporary opera. But this one seems quite different and we are bursting with enthusiasm. The work appears to be taking opera to an entirely new level, suited to the 21st c.

Last night at the Guggenheim Museum we attended a Works and Process in which we heard about the opera from Director Kevin Newbury, librettist Mark Campbell, and composer Mason Bates. We completely grasped their objectives. So many operas are about revolutions.  So many operas are about seminal figures. In this case we have a seminal figure who created a revolution--a cultural revolution that has altered our society and the way we interact.

We have been reflecting upon the changes he wrought upon our culture--the way we get information, the way we shop, the way we interact with other people, even the way we find mates; nothing will ever be the same. We may or may not like these changes but if we do not adjust to them, we are left out of society.

What a stimulating topic for an opera! Mr. Jobs was a complex figure, starting out as a counter-culture hippie wanting to bring down big business--and ended up as a mogul. He was said to be a difficult man and a perfectionist. The opera will humanize this iconic figure. It focuses on five main characters--Mr. Jobs, his creative partner Steve "Woz" Wozniak, his wife Laurene, his spiritual advisor Kobun Chino Otagawa, and his girlfriend Chrisann. Composer Mason Bates has given each a leitmotiv.

Mr. Bates is a highly regarded and celebrated composer and this is his first "produced" opera. The music is playful and incorporates electronics, guitar, and other unusual elements to tell an emotional story. Mark Campbell's libretto is theatrical and tells the story in a non-linear way, humanizing this larger-than-life figure who thought of the computer as "an instrument to be played".  Most of us forget or never knew how inaccessible computers were before Jobs. We recall our first Apple product--a Blackberry which we still have! We would never have gotten a computer, but the Blackberry was so--friendly!

We got a pretty good glimpse of what the opera will look and sound like. Several scenes were presented for our enjoyment. The casting was flawless. Baritone Edward Parks, an artist we have long admired, was chosen for the lead because of his fine dramatic instincts and because of his mellow voice which one can listen to all night long (although the opera is not all that long and will be performed without intermission).

We especially loved the scenes in which Otogawa confronts Jobs. The role is brilliantly performed by Gerda Lissner Award winning bass Wei Wu from the Washington National Opera Young Artists Program. Both Mr. Parks and Mr. Wu will perform these roles in Santa Fe. The music for these scenes was otherworldly, employing the guitar (played by James Moore) and electronic music produced by Mr. Bates himself. There were some portentous chords on the piano, produced by Maestro Robert Tweten, who conducted.

There was also a wonderful scene in the garage of Jobs' home in Los Altos when Jobs and "Woz" were figuring out how to make the computer accessible and another one three years earlier when they figured out how to scam the telephone company and "Woz" pretended to be Kissinger calling the Vatican to cancel a meeting with the Pope. Tenor Garrett Sorenson made a marvelously funny "Woz" and sang the role with great gusto and sound.

In the role of Laurene, Jobs' wife, we heard Sarah Coit, one of the Santa Fe Apprentices, who floated and held a high note with a dazzling diminuendo. This summer the role will be taken by the splendid Sasha Cooke.

SFO apprentice Jessica Jones sang the role of the girlfriend with whom he dropped acid in the 70's. We enjoyed her performance and we don't know who will be singing that role in Santa Fe. 

Slides were projected illustrating the high-tech sets and their Japanese influence. There will be complex video projections that will move with the scenery.

With such a gifted production team and such superb artists onstage, this should be a special night in Santa Fe. The work will have its world premiere on Juy 22nd and there will be only six performances.

We strongly recommend that you get your tickets ASAP. The topicality, the production, and the music should make it a sell-out.  And Santa Fe is fantastic in the summer.

(c) meche kroop

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