Mark Cambell; librettist, left, and Mason Bates; composer at the Opera Ranch. Photo by Roger Snodgrass/ladailypost.com
The Santa Fe Opera’s 14th world premiere opened this week with a tremendous media buzz for Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain.
How better to build on that momentum than for General Director Charles MacKay to announce the commission of the festival’s 15th world premiere: “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” now scheduled for the 2017 season.
The opera will be composed by Mason Bates, a prolific, young composer, currently serving as the first composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Mark Campbell, author of 15 libretti including Silent Night, a Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, is writing an original libretto for the new work.
MacKay introduced Bates and Campbell on the McCune Terrace of the Opera Ranch this morning.
“Mason Bates is one of the most performed living composers in the world,” he said. “His work is a true reflection of the digital age in which we live.”
“What interested us is the intersection of creativity, technology and human communication, and we really believe that those three elements can make great opera,” Bates said, “I have been working at that intersection for a while now, working with orchestras pushing them to have an expanded sound palette.” The more sounds, the better, the composer said. “When you have more sounds you can have more drama,” he added. “In this piece every character will have his or her musical world and when they collide that’s when it gets interesting.”
Campbell offered a hint about the plot. “Steve Jobs was a very difficult man – it’s documented, often impossible, did horrible things,” he said. “But I think ultimately the portrait we’re creating is a man who lost himself because of ego and money and all of those corporate things and then found himelf, found what drove him originally to be one of the great innovators of the century.”
McKay attributed the company’s interest in Bates to the persistence of SFO’s director of artistic administration Brad Woolbright. “When we thought how in the world will we follow Jennifer Higdon with our next commission, Brad kept whispering in my ear, I think Mason Bates has an opera in him.”
“Mason Bates has been a champion in bringing new audiences to classical music,” MacKay said, “and the subject matter he has chosen seems perfectly suited to the operatic art form — chronicling the life and legacy of one of the most compelling figures of our time. We believe The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs will forge new connections and engage our audiences in new ways.”
Bates has visited the Santa Fe Opera from time to time since his early 20s, which wasn’t very long ago, MacKay noted. “And of course we knew his great success with the YouTube Orchestra Project and I was privileged to attend a performance at the San Francisco Symphony of the B-Sides.
National Public Radio featured Cold Mountain on Morning Edition today. Watch for Jeffrey Brown’s report on PBS New Hour‘s coming soon.