My wife Maria and I saw Mason Bates’ new opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs this past weekend at the Santa Fe Opera. The audience went crazy for it, and all future shows are sold out. The opera is innovative, engaging, and fun with a handful of flaws. I give it a Net Positive, and I encourage folks to go see it in future productions.
What was Good
There are many reviews online which offer context on the opera, so I will focus solely on my impressions of the performance. There are several aspects that I really enjoyed:
- I think (R)evolution broke new ground in opera structure. The sequence of mini-vignettes (as opposed to scenes & acts) within an almost seamless 90 minutes was quite effective.
- The variety of musical colors and textures generally kept the music sounding fresh at each new turn. Mason Bates clearly grasps the power and colors of the orchestra, and I was surprised by the effectiveness of his integration of electronic sounds.
- The extent of text painting Mason Bates applied to the libretto fascinated me. Frequently, it seemed as if the accompaniment reflected the meaning of each phrase of the libretto. In a more traditional musical structure, I’m not sure this density of text painting would have been possible.
- The use of the chorus offered effective contrast and counterpoint to the soloists. Several ensemble pieces were interesting in their initial presentation and then superimposition of the musical and textual elements.
- The production was minimalist, yet, with the highly choreographed and synchronized video projections, it was stunning. The creative quality of the video offered far exceeded what I’ve seen in previous Santa Fe productions.
- The singing was fabulous and the characters were convincing. That Jobs (Edward Parks) could be on stage and singing for 90 minutes alone was a feat. The cues seemed accurate even in some of the more rhythmically difficult areas.
- Much of the libretto was interesting: it effectively presented vignettes of Jobs’ life, it didn’t follow a chronological sequence, and it was filled with many humorous spots.
And Not As Good
I thought there were a number of weak spots:
- Most disappointing? The libretto did not present a convincing arc. The first half of (R)evolution offered an effective and engaging synopsis of Jobs’ history with Apple (a company never named in the opera). However, the second half and culmination of the opera didn’t smoothly follow the first half. By the end the focus of the opera had turned to Steve Jobs’ wife, but she had no character development and little lead up to this emphasis. The supposed evolution of Steve Jobs was implied in one tiny vignette. The preachy moral offered at the end (“there’s more to life than your smartphone”) came out of nowhere. I think that the intended arc has great potential as a storyline, and I believe that this intention could have been better introduced at the beginning and developed throughout the work.
- Musically, much of the work struck me as innovative and engaging. But when the electronica or music fell into cliche or predictability in at least a handful of moments (Sol La Ti Do as a musical motif – really?), the contrast was striking and distracting.
As I said before, I give The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs a solid Net Positive. Both Maria and I are very glad to have attended the opera, and I plan on purchasing a CD or DVD of the work to study many aspects of the music and orchestration. I highly recommended it for its innovative structure, fabulous production, great orchestration, and generally fun music.