Monday, February 17, 2014

Death and the Powers

Composer/Creative Director:  Tod Machover
Librettist:  Robert Pinsky
Conductor:  Nicole Paiement
Simon Powers:  Robert Orth, baritone
Miranda:  Joélle Harvey, soprano
Evvy:  Patricia Risley, mezzo-soprano
Nicholas:  Hal Cazalet, tenor
The United Way:  Frank Kelley
The United Nations:  David Kravitz
The Administration:  Tom McNichols

This science fiction search for immortality opera, Death and the Powers by Tod Machover, could not possibly be more timely, what with Almost Human and other machine/human science fiction we are seeing everywhere these days.  It even mentions Walt Disney as a fellow dreamer for immortality.  We watched at the San Francisco Conservatory while the opera was performed in Dallas.

Once upon a time there was a rich man, Simon Powers, who felt that he was reaching the end of his life and wanted to do everything possible to live forever.  Walt Disney is supposed to have tried cryogenics, but Simon chose to have his consciousness uploaded into a machine.  The early part of the opera consists of Simon explaining his plan to his wife Evvy and his daughter Miranda.  Assisting him in this process is Nicholas, a robot put into a human-like body.  He climbs all over the set.

Once Simon is in the machine, Evvy listens to him through earphones.  She tells what it is like:  it's like falling forever.  The experience is like going to the light.

About a third of the way through this opera, after the transformation, appeared some but not all of these words in German:

O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht' ich im Himmel sein.
Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg:
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen!
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig Leben!
I immediately recognized Urlicht (Primeval Light) from Mahler 2 and also Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  Mahler's music did not accompany these words.  One loves to have insider knowledge.

It is a kind of heavenly afterlife where one can still speak to those who are left behind in their human state.  Evvy decides to go with Simon, but Miranda sings of the life of the body, our true lives.  She misses her mother.

Everyone involved with this opera talked about the presence of technology in an opera.  There was an app which could be downloaded to smartphones.  I couldn't get it to run on mine, but I noticed around me that people quickly lost interest in this and just watched the opera.

Frankly, I absolutely loved this.  They felt no inhibitions whatsoever about repeating the same text over and over like what?  LIKE AN OPERA!!  What do I keep saying?  Ignore Lord Richard and write real operas, operas where people repeat the words, sing arias, belt it out there like real opera singers.  The all recitative opera is NOT WORKING.  All the singing was wonderful.  It was glorious.  Thank you.

Nicole Paiement, the conductor of San Francisco's Opera Parallèle, conducted. People love her here.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Thanks for sharing this clip; I am checking out more clips at YT. I wonder if there is/there will be a full video. Fascinating!

Thanks again for drawing our attention to this work and to Tod Machover (a familiar name, although up till today, I couldn't name any of his works.)