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Thread: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs at Seattle Opera

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  1. #1
    Member Recent member ValkyrieSue's Avatar
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    The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs at Seattle Opera

    "Only one device / Does it all / In one hand / All you need." But ... I shall take Paul Jobs' advice and start at the beginning - "a fine place to start."

    The players are:

    Paul Jobs, Steve Jobs' adoptive father - Morgan Smith (baritone)
    Steve Jobs - John Moore (baritone
    Chrisann Brennan - Madison Leonard (soprano)
    Steve Wozniak (The Wizard of Woz) - Garrett Sorenson (tenor)
    Laurene Powell Jobs - Emily Fons (mezzo)
    Kobun Chino Otogawa - Adam Lau (bass)
    Teacher (who teaches us about the "ensō") - Sarah Mattox (mezzo)
    Young Steve Jobs - Thomas Gomes (actor)
    Seattle Opera Chorus (16)
    Directed by Kevin Newbury

    The orchestra, which has electronic instruments along with conventional instruments, was conducted by Nicole Paiement.

    It has taken me several weeks since I last saw The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs for the fifth time at Seattle Opera's McCaw Hall, for it all to sink in. I believe I can begin to tell about this amazing work of art (frankly, I hate the word "amazing" - so overused - but it's quite properly used here) - both musically and visually. We all know the stories about Jobs and I will not attempt to describe that part because the opera's structure jumps all over the timeline and it works perfectly. Just like his "one device."

    Before revealing too much about what is happening onstage, I want to assure that you all know Mason Bates (the composer) and Mark Campbell (the librettist) won a Grammy on Feb. 10, 2019, for this opera. I attended the opening night dinner event at McCaw Hall that featured Bates and Campbell describing their creative process of several years and that, since the opera's premier in 2017 at Santa Fe Opera followed by presentation at Indiana University, changes were made and additional music was written for the Laurene Powell Jobs character to strengthen her impact on the story. We in Seattle were treated to the latest revision. I wonder if they will make any additional changes before it arrives in San Francisco in June of 2020. I'll know, I assure you.

    The monoliths. Eight in all. I presume you already have a monolith in mind - 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not far off at all. But, these monoliths move all around the stage and have gorgeous graphics displayed on them. They run on tracks inlaid in the stage and have two handlers each. We can see the handlers now and then so we know the magic comes from the people. Because: all magic comes from people. Seamless scene changes. And the sound magic comes from the singers being miked as well so they can act more naturally and still be heard clearly. It's a new day, isn't it?

    This opera is only one act, approximately one hour forty-two minutes. The structure of this work is circular, an "ensō," which is the word describing a Japanese calligraphic circle executed in one complete stroke, or in two strokes, embodying the aesthetic idea of elegance and simplicity. This is the resonating theme underlying the design of the "one device," which is never named, but we all know what it is. Jobs learned about the ensō in 1973 at Reed College, Portland, OR, a school I had always wished I could have attended (not smart enough, sigh) from his Teacher. Then, Jobs dropped out and returned to California where he takes LSD with Chrisann and he sees music. We know he does because we can see it, too.

    Our circle starts in "The Garage." Yes, that very garage where Steve and Steve (The Wizard of Woz) created the Blue Box that allowed them to "bring Ma Bell to her knees." This is actually my favorite scene in the entire work because it's clear that Woz and Jobs were a magical accident - they sing jazzy taunts in close harmony mocking corporate giants. But, I am running ahead of the circle - it truly begins when Paul Jobs presents his 12-year-old son, Steve, with a special birthday gift - a work table Paul has built "from plywood and nails" to fit a young boy, and a box of tools so he can figure out how things work, how they are taken apart and put back together. It's "a fine place to start" - and it will be a fine place to end 142 minutes later, with Laurene and The Woz looking on as we see once again how it all began, and that completes the "enso."

    Meanwhile, we hear from Kobun, both while he was living and later, after his death by drowning while trying to save his child. Jobs says to him: "How can you be here? You are dead." Kobun replies, "As your spiritual advisor, I am always with you, a blessing and a curse." Kobun gets the best lines.

    My usual disclaimer - I am not a musician and have no idea how anyone can write such intricate, polyrhythmic music that musicians can play just by reading it. That's the most mystifying magic for me in opera. All the singers are perfectly cast, the voice type selections work realistically, and the chorus cast is essential, not just a Greek chorus, but as the living embodiment of how digital/electronic devices work as they interact with the moving monoliths.

    Oh, speaking of great lines - When Woz describes his design to Jobs, he calls it "an interface only a motherboard could love." And, in the libretto, Seattle is mentioned by name because our city and "The Big M" were a huge influence on Steve Jobs too. Additionally, a local TV station (KING TV) had John Moore perform one of his arias from the production during a local, morning show broadcast. The interesting thing for me is this link has a different title, which was what I was looking for originally, regarding the selection of our next General Director for Seattle Opera (Christina Scheppelmann - more to follow), and it turned out to be John Moore instead. More digital magic, I assumed.

    Please plan to join me in San Francisco at the War Memorial Opera House on Saturday, June 20, 2020, to experience The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs when it arrives there. At present, only Garrett Sorenson from our production will be reprising Woz, Edward Parks, who was Jobs in Santa Fe, returns as well as Sasha Cooke returning as Laurene Powell Jobs, and Wei Wu as Kobun. The other cast has not yet been announced as of March 29, 2019.

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Welcome back! Great review!
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    What a wonderful review. I know next to nothing about Steve Jobs but this has made me want to read up about him and to see this opera if it's ever staged in Europe.
    "Every theatre is an insane asylum, but an opera theatre is the ward for the incurables."

    FRANZ SCHALK, attributed, Losing the Plot in Opera: Myths and Secrets of the World's Great Operas

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  6. #4
    Member Recent member ValkyrieSue's Avatar
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    I'm glad I piqued your curiosity. For the definitive biography of Steve Jobs, look for Walter Isaacson's book, Steve Jobs. I checked it out from my nearby library but it is gargantuan (the hardback version, but a paperback would have been almost as heavy). I prefer to read in bed and this was never going to work. I did read the first 35 pages standing up and recommend it enthusiastically to anyone wanting the full story on Jobs.

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