In four performances in the spring of 2022, Atlanta Opera presents the Southeastern premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (April 30-May 8), the opera that won Mason Bates and Mark Campbell a Grammy Award 2019, in a new production by General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun.
A major new addition to the contemporary canon, after receiving its world premiere in Santa Fe, Bates and Campbell’s opera won acclaim at Seattle Opera (Washington Post), where it became the most popular work in 58 years of history of this company.
Co-produced with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Austin Opera, and soon to also head to the Utah Symphony and Canadian Opera Calgary, Zvulun’s new Steve Jobs-inspired treatment is only the second to date, reaffirming Atlanta Opera’s position as “one of America’s most exciting opera companies” (Opera Wire).
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs follows the visionary co-founder of Apple as he reflects on his life and career and confronts his own mortality.
Zvulun explains, “Steve Jobs completely transformed the way we think about the world, the way we think about knowledge, the way we communicate verbally and in writing, and the way we access music. However, despite all this – or perhaps because of it – he was a very complex person, an icon representing the intersection between technology and art. He embodied a radical dichotomy of stark contrasts: a barefoot hippie but also a sophisticated yuppie, a zen buddhist but also a CEO in power, an artist and a businessman. “
To address these contradictions, the opera approaches Jobs’ life in a non-linear and kaleidoscopic way, jumping between places and time periods to trace the emotional trajectory of his story. In a recent “Business of Opera” podcast for the Atlanta Opera, Mason Bates – who was previously the first composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center in Washington – told Zvulun:
“We wanted the real feel of the piece to reflect the quicksilver world of tech, so we made the decision to go back and forth – while anchoring everything with a clear emotional arc. The more our lives are based on experiences and digital screens, the more the more we need something to give us a transformative, profound and cathartic experience.Steve Jobs encapsulates this tension, and his wife Laurene provides the crucial “ground” for its positive and negative charges. opera, you’re automatically dealing with a more poeticized version of humanity, and it’s the perfect way to explore this story of passion, obsession and tragedy.”
Zvulun set out to capture this paradoxically poetic vision in collaboration with set and costume designer Jacob Climer and projection designer S. Katy Tucker, the team behind his acclaimed version of The Flying Dutchman, and lighting designer Robert Wierzel, whose honors include Emmy, Obie, Bessie Award and Helen Hayes. Their tech-themed treatment, minimalist and appropriate, features 28 monitors and projections on a set representing a giant computer system that often needs to restart. Rather than fade to black between each short scene, the team opted to mimic the effect of a crashing computer by building a dazzling white glow instead. The simplicity of this approach serves to heighten the tension, always keeping the dramatic focus on the complex nature of the opera’s protagonist and his most telling relationships.
Librettist Mark Campbell, whose opera Silent Night won a Pulitzer Prize for Music, notes: “Wherever he has performed, Steve Jobs’ (R)evolution has proved hugely popular with audiences, while attracting many young people and beginners. In this exciting new production, Tomer and his brilliant design team have scaled back some elements and focused more on the story and the music so that audiences can feel that palpable connection to opera. I think their staging brings out the heart of the opera – the soul of this story comes through, and the soul is so beautifully expressed in Mason’s music.”
Bates himself agrees: “I’m so inspired to see how the Steve Jobs story continues to resonate. beautifully streamlined ensemble places us both in the world of the play and, simultaneously, in the dream space of Jobs’ mind. I can’t wait to experience it with audiences across the country. Premiering at Opera Atlanta, Zvulun’s original staging features John Moore, last seen in Atlanta in The Marriage of Figaro. Boasting a “striking baritone and a personality to burn” (Opera News), Moore reprized his headlining performance at the Seattle Opera’s West Coast premiere of Steve Jobs. He is joined by Sarah Larsen, as Jobs’ wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, with Elizabeth Sutphen as Chrisann Brennan, the ex-girlfriend with whom he fathered a child. Tenor Bille Bruley plays Apple co-founder and lead developer Steve Wozniak. Rounding out the cast as Zen priest Kōbun Chino Otogawa, Jobs’s longtime spiritual advisor, is Adam Lau, the George London competition-winning bass, who drew acclaim in the role at the Seattle Opera.
New West Symphony music director Michael Christie conducts, as on the opera’s Grammy-winning recording and also in its world premiere, when he “chairs[d] on a skillfully executed performance” (Financial Times).
Small companies and concert halls are often unable to stage major new operas. To better suit their needs, Zvulun’s new Steve Jobs economy staging is intimately scaled and streamlined for easy travel. As a result, the production is already set to bow not only to Atlanta, but also to Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Austin Opera, Calgary Opera, Utah Symphony and beyond. Having already seen original productions of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s Silent Night and William Bolcom and Mark Campbell’s Dinner at 8 staged at Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland, and of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking at Israeli Opera, the Atlanta Opera is quickly becoming one of the main engines of contemporary American work on the international stage.
Such partnerships with other key national and global companies are hallmarks of Opera Atlanta’s collaborative vision. Committed to working with other organizations in the local community and finding new creative ways to incorporate other art forms into its productions, the company recently featured flamenco star dancer and choreographer Sonia Olla in The Threepenny Carmen and embarked on ambitious new partnerships with the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music and Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts for The Threepenny Opera.
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