International Herald Tribune – Opera With Atmosphere of Brave New World

Two weeks after the world premiere of Death and the Powers, the reviews are starting to come in (see BUZZ)! This week, Jonathan Levi published his article, “Opera With Atmosphere of Brave New World,” in the International Herald Tribune. It is a beautifully written piece that brings Levi’s own perspective to Death and the Powers. He begins by setting the scene in the “photo perfect” Salle Garnier, describing the robots humming and whirring, waiting meditatively to tell their story “like children at a Passover Seder or a Christmas pageant.” An interesting take on the chorus of Operabots – in talking to many opera-goers after the show, I’d heard as many varied takes on the robots as “the narrators-turned-actors; new age pets; the very, very, VERY contemporary Greek chorus!”

Levi’s review is imbued with high praise, celebrating Jim Maddalena’s Simon Powers as a “thousand-watt character, full of wit, humor and power,” Patricia Risley’s voice of Evvy as “a wonderfully sexy hum,” and especially picks out Joelle Harvey as “most moving… with a simple, effortless soprano.” He lauds librettist Robert Pinsky as “a great jokester, a lover of puns, a supreme ironist and a serious carnivore,” and exalts composer/inventor Tod Machover for bringing “electronic music to an audience frightened by anything more radical than Puccini,” while also introducing “new generations of Mirandas to the Brave New Worlds of art and technological possibility.” High praise indeed!

Mr. Levi believes, however, that the opera falls short in bringing Simon Powers’s character to life from beyond the stage. “We are all children of ‘Star Wars,’ inured to special effects far more impressive on-screen,” he writes, referencing the computer-generated movie effects of “Star Wars” as a foil for the theater effects of “Death and the Powers.” Mr. Levi’s example choice stuck out in particular to me, since “Star Wars” is known for captivating audiences of all generations – both at its release and thirty years later. To this day, young children continue to fall in love with the grubby, CGI-less original trilogy – even over the flashier, shinier effects of the more recent prequel movies. After all – if you’ll allow me to wax nerdy for a second – isn’t it the myth of the fall and rise of Anakin Skywalker, the eventual triumph of good, the characters and the legacy that eventually captivates our attention?

Which brings us back to the central message of Death and the Powers, which Mr. Levi finds to be “human emotions are not programmable and easily replicated.” Certainly, it’s a story about human emotions and their intersection with technology, but it also deals largely with the legacy one leaves behind after death. I’d love to hear what others who came to the premiere thought – what did you take away from Death and the Powers? What did you find compelling about the story, the way in which it was told, and the characters? For those who are waiting to see Death and the Powers, how does this review stack up with your previous expectations? Let us know in the comments!

One Reply to “International Herald Tribune – Opera With Atmosphere of Brave New World”

  1. My expectations for the work are rather vague. (And I haven’t read the linked review yet.) I haven’t deliberately kept myself uninformed; I just haven’t had the time to read all the posts here and watch all the videos. What I’ve gathered is that the libretto does involve, as you put it, “the legacy one leaves behind after death.” What I’m unsure about is to what extent it also involves the attempt to transfer personality into an electronic system–to put a ghost into a machine, so to speak.

    I have some hope of seeing the Boston production, so I should be able to find out.

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