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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 Opera House.

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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