What shape will opera take in the future?
By Mort Levine
What shape will opera take in the future? What
do the most creative composers, librettists, and
directors think about this art form’s next reincarnation?Because we live in Silicon Valley’s high technology
playground, we can be sure there will
be some efforts made to embrace our many local
forward thrusts into the mix of ideas that will
be shaping the operatic world as well as other art
forms across the 21st century.
Now wait, you might say, haven’t we already
experienced some new works written in this still
young century? Yes, indeed. The latest example
immediately at hand is the just concluded run
of Delores Claiborne. In many ways, a successful
opera yet redolent of some of the verismo and
romantic aspect of century old productions. Careful
listening to the Tobias Picker opera of Stephen
King’s gothic tale brings with it many rewards, but 21st century it is not.
Instead, let’s take a peek into the coming year.
On February 16, 2014 we can be treated to a free
HD simulcast of an opera that may fit the bill
we’ve described. It will be shown here at the new
21st century Bing Concert Hall on the Stanford
campus. We’ll be sharing a worldwide transmission to hundreds of venues around the globe.
The new opera is called Death and the Powers. It is by an accomplished opera composer, Tod Machover, to a witty, clever libretto by the former poet laureate of the US, Robert Pinsky. One reason it gets especially interesting is that Machover is also the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.
The opera story concerns a terminally ill billionaire, Simon Powers, who wants to know just how far humans can push the limits of immortality. He decides to download his consciousness into a robot’s brain, and, from then on, the audience will
be seeing things through the robot’s eyes and understanding them through its brain.
Pushing out the frontiers of high technology, we will all have a chance to interact with the robot through use of our smart phones, our iPads, or tablets. Additional devices will be supplied as needed.
The opera has been presented twice already in
Boston and in Monte Carlo. Now, the Dallas Opera
has taken this on as part of its commitment to
their Opera of the Future project. Thus, the HD
simulcast comes to us from the stage of the Winspear
Machover’s music takes flight in what critics have called an exciting new techo-direction
which is clearly of our new century. The composer
stresses that just as there should be no limits to
life long learning in all its forms, so should opera and other musical forms find their own limitless directions..
Highly respected opera critic Andrew Porter
summed it up in an article in Opera Magazine when he declared: “Death and the Powers is a rich, new serious truly grand opera“. See you at the Bing on Feb. 16. Don’t forget your smart phone.
(SJOG Newsletter November 2013)
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