January 13, 2022
Scene from The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (courtesy of The Atlanta Opera)
In four performances in spring 2022, The Atlanta Opera presents the Southeast premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (April 30–May 8), the opera that won Mason Bates and Mark Campbell a 2019 Grammy Award, in a new production from General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, the “innovative risk-taker … bringing change to The Atlanta Opera” (Opera News). An important new addition to the contemporary canon, after receiving its world premiere in Santa Fe, Bates and Campbell’s opera was “rapturously received” as “a triumph” at Seattle Opera (Washington Post), where it went on to become the most popular work in that company’s 58-year history. Co-produced with Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Austin Opera, and soon headed also to the Utah Symphony and Canada’s Calgary Opera, Zvulun’s inspired new treatment of Steve Jobs is just the second to date, reaffirming The Atlanta Opera’s standing as “one of the most exciting opera companies in America” (Opera Wire).
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs follows the visionary Apple co-founder as he looks back on his life and career and confronts his own mortality. Zvulun explains:
“Steve Jobs completely transformed the way we think about the world, how we think about knowledge, how we communicate verbally and in writing, and how we access music. However, for all that – or perhaps because of that – he was a very complex person, an icon representing the intersection between technology and art. He embodied a radical dichotomy of absolute contrasts: a barefoot hippie yet also a sophisticated yuppie, a Zen Buddhist yet also a power-wielding CEO, an artist and a businessman.”
To address these contradictions, the opera approaches Jobs’s life in a non-linear, kaleidoscopic fashion, jumping between locations 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 formerly served as the inaugural Composer-in-Residence of Washington’s Kennedy Center – tells Zvulun:
“We wanted the actual feeling of the piece to reflect the quicksilver world of technology, so we made the decision to go backwards and forwards – while anchoring everything with a clear emotional arc. The more our lives are based around digital experiences and screens, the more we need something to give us a transformative, deep, cathartic experience. Steve Jobs encapsulates that tension, and his wife Laurene provides the crucial ‘ground’ to his positive and negative charges. In opera you’re automatically dealing with a more poeticized version of humanity, and it’s the perfect medium 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 take on The Flying Dutchman, and lighting designer Robert Wierzel, whose honors include Emmy, Obie, Bessie and Helen Hayes Awards. Their appropriately minimalist, tech-themed treatment features 28 monitors and projections on a set representing a giant computer system that must often reboot. Rather than fading to black between each short scene, the team chose to mimic the effect of a crashing computer by building instead to a dazzling white glare. The simplicity of this approach serves to heighten the tension, keeping dramatic focus always on the complex nature of the opera’s protagonist and his most revealing relationships. Librettist Mark Campbell, whose opera Silent Night received a Pulitzer Prize for Music, notes:
“Wherever it has played, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs has proven to be very popular with audiences, while also attracting many younger people and first-time operagoers to the opera house. In this exciting new production, Tomer and his brilliant design team have scaled back some elements and focused more on the story and music so that the audience can feel that palpable connection with the opera. I think their staging brings out the heart of the opera – the soul of this story is coming forward, and the soul is so beautifully expressed in Mason’s music.”
Bates himself agrees:
“I’m so inspired to see how the story of Steve Jobs continues to resonate. The high drama of his life and death plays out so vividly in this new production, which clarifies the opera’s arc and sharpens its message. The beautifully streamlined set places us both in the world of the piece and, simultaneously, the dreamy space of Jobs’s mind. I can’t wait to experience it together with audiences around the country.”
At its Atlanta Opera premiere, Zvulun’s original staging stars John Moore, last seen at Atlanta in The Marriage of Figaro. Blessed with “an arresting burnt-umber baritone and personality to burn” (Opera News), Moore reprises his headlining performance from Seattle Opera’s West Coast premiere of Steve Jobs. He is joined by Sarah Larsen, a mezzo-soprano known for her “taste and technical excellence” (Opera Today), as Jobs’s wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, with Elizabeth Sutphen, “an impressive coloratura soprano” (New York Times) as Chrisann Brennan, the ex-girlfriend with whom he fathered a child. Tenor Bille Bruley, whose “exuberant, substantial tenor … combined with his dramatic commitment [makes] him an audience favorite” (Opera Today), portrays Apple co-founder and lead developer Steve Wozniak. Rounding out the cast as Zen priest Kōbun Chino Otogawa, Jobs’s long-time spiritual advisor, is George London Competition-winning bass Adam Lau, who drew raves in the role at Seattle Opera. New West Symphony Music Director Michael Christie conducts, as on the opera’s Grammy-winning recording and also at its world premiere, when he “preside[d] over an expertly executed performance” (Financial Times).
Smaller companies and concert halls are often unable to mount important new operas. To better meet their needs, Zvulun’s economical new staging of Steve Jobs is intimate in scale and streamlined for ease of travel. As a result, the production is already slated to bow not only in Atlanta but also at Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Austin Opera, Calgary Opera, the 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 mounted at Ireland’s Wexford Festival Opera, and of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking at the Israeli Opera, The Atlanta Opera is fast becoming a leading driver of contemporary American work onto the international stage.
Such partnerships with other key companies nation- and worldwide are characteristic of The Atlanta Opera’s collaborative vision. Committed to working with other organizations in the local community, and finding creative new ways of incorporating additional art forms into its productions, the company recently featured star Flamenco 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. To learn more about the The Atlanta Opera’s mission and history, click here.
About The Atlanta Opera
The Atlanta Opera’s mission is to build the major international opera company that Atlanta deserves, while reimagining what opera can be. Founded in 1979, the company works with world-renowned singers, conductors, directors and designers who seek to enhance the art form. Under the leadership of internationally recognized stage director Tomer Zvulun, the company’s Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. General & Artistic Director, The Atlanta Opera expanded from three to four mainstage productions at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and launched the acclaimed Discoveries series. In recent years, the company was named among the “Best of 2015” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was nominated for a 2016 International Opera Award, and won ArtsATL’s 2019 Luminary Award for Community Engagement in recognition of its successful Veterans Program in partnership with the Home Depot Foundation. In addition, The Atlanta Opera was featured in a 2018 Harvard Business School case study about successful organizational growth, and Zvulun presented a TEDx Talk at Emory University titled “The Ambidextrous Opera Company, or Opera in the Age of iPhones.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Atlanta Opera was one of the only companies in the world to create a full, alternative season, consisting of no fewer than 40 live performances in two different outdoor venues, one of which was a revolutionary custom-designed circus tent. The company tripled its fundraising goal and created four new productions, each employing a cast, crew and staff of 150. The critically acclaimed productions and concerts were streamed in HD on the newly created digital platform Spotlight Media, allowing The Atlanta Opera to reach a global audience. National media coverage of the company’s “pandemic season” included features in the Wall Street Journal and on PBS Newshour. For more information, visit atlantaopera.org.
To download high-resolution photos, click here.
Atlanta Opera presents The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
(new production; Southeast premiere)
Atlanta, GA (Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre)
April 30; May 3, 6, 8
Music: Mason Bates
Libretto: Mark Campbell
A co-production with Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Austin Opera
Steve Jobs: John Moore, baritone
Laurene Powell Jobs: Sarah Larsen, mezzo soprano
Steve Wozniak: Bille Bruley, tenor
Chrisann Brennan: Elizabeth Sutphen, soprano
Kōbun Chino Otogawa: Adam Lau, bass
Conductor: Michael Christie
Director: Tomer Zvulun, Carl W. Knobloch Jr. General & Artistic Director of The Atlanta Opera
Set and costume design: Jacob Climer
Projection design: S. Katy Tucker
Lighting design: Robert Wierzel
Sound design: Rick Jacobsohn
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© 21C Media Group, January 2022