To paraphrase Yogi Berra, if people won’t come, nobody can stop them. But then, the obverse is also true. When the Santa Fe Opera announced the premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs for the summer of 2017, box-office demand was so high that an extra show had to be added even before opening night. And when The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal slammed Mark Campbell’s formulaic libretto and weren’t wild about the electronically inflected Son-of-Glass score by Mason Bates, it didn’t matter all that much. Steve Jobs sings? Paying customers wanted to catch that—and not just in Santa Fe.
Originally staged by Kevin Newbury for the consortium of companies that commissioned the piece, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs is already making the rounds in a new production by Tomer Zvulun, general and artistic director of Atlanta Opera. In May, the reboot moves straight from engagements in Kansas City and Austin to Zvulun’s home stage. A live stream on May 6, captured by eight cameras, will give audiences at home their first look at what promises to be an enduring hit. Not since the president deplaned in John Adams’s Nixon in China (1987) has an American protagonist made as thrilling an entrance as Bates’s Steve Jobs launching the iPhone. Such first impressions matter.
If you’re expecting to save yourself the chore of plowing through Walter Isaacson’s 630-page warts-and-all authorized Steve Jobs biography, excellent as it is, forget it. What Bates and Campbell have wrought is a Zen fable centered on a control freak at lifelong war with mess in his personal life, in his professional life, and in the realization of his radically minimalist vision.
PS: Fans of operatic biographies of brainiacs (and of single letters set off in parentheses) will want to mark their calendars now for The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing. The music is by Justine F. Chen, the libretto by David Simpatico, and Chicago Opera Theater has announced the world premiere for March 23 to 26, 2023.
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs plays at the Atlanta Opera from April 30 through May 8 and streams live on May 6 on the Atlanta Opera Web site
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii