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Why Steve Jobs' Life Makes for a Perfect Modern Opera

Composer-DJ, Mason Bates
Scott Suchman

Composer-DJ, Mason Bates

If a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton can become a phenomenon, why can’t an opera about Apple? With The(R)evolution of Steve Jobs, premiering July 22 at the Santa Fe Opera Festival in New Mexico, San Francisco-based composer DJ Mason Bates showcases "a redemption story" as channeled through a conflicted baritone (opera vet Edward Parks).

You started working on this in 2015. How did you get the idea?

Bates: I thought about what a 21st century opera would look like. [Jobs] changed how we communicate, and yet in his own life had challenges dealing with people. That tension between the sleek look of his devices and the messy quality of his life is the stuff of opera.

Did you have either of the Jobs biopics in mind while writing?

I haven’t seen them. I find that opera can be a deeper way to get to the essence of the story. With a movie, there’s less poetry involved -- you’re looking at something that’s supposed to be a replica of life.

Is the plot of the opera linear?

There’s more of a main dramatic line than a plot: the redemption of a counterculture hippie and the attrition through a daughter he didn’t acknowledge for many years. The narrative is like pixels on a screen -- one pixel is not meaningful, but together, they find dramatic power.

Describe the overall musical tone.

Whenever Steve is singing, you hear quick electronica with fast, finger-picked acoustic guitar. That represents his busy inner soul, whereas with his wife, Laurene, you hear oceanic strings. That difference is what the opera is about in many ways -- she is able to slow down his music.    

This article originally appeared in the July 22 issue of Billboard.

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