David Patrick Stearns, the classical music critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, has written a thoughtful review of Death and the Powers and another new work, a stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, directed by Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner Danny Boyle for the National Theater of Great Britain. The two works are linked thematically (“the desire to cheat death”) and by their effective use of stage technology to pack a cinematic punch. Here’s what he had to say about Death and the Powers:
As it now stands, Death and the Powers doesn’t point the way to a new era of opera. It’s there. Now.
Everything works – the robots of the prologue and epilogue move fluidly and expressively; the set consists of large movable video panels that create all sorts of atmosphere but also come together for larger composite images, which are particularly effective when the billionaire is communicating from his world of light.
Machover’s score is like an extension of the scenic design – subservient to the dramatic points at hand rather than calling attention to his own artistry. Yet you know the characters are on new ground when the music loses its mooring in tonality, proceeding beyond notes and into electronically generated sound. For all its high-concept nature, the opera is consistently direct. Because you don’t have to really figure out the opera’s mechanism, whether theatrical or musical, the bigger ideas more readily rise to the surface.
And we had a good laugh over this:
The most original among them isn’t the philosophical implications of eternal life, but something practical: Do your nearest and dearest really want you around permanently? At a reception after the premiere, composer Machover put it this way: “My daughter is here. I love her more than anything. I’d love her to want to have everything about me on her iPod. But it’s probably not what she wants on her iPod.”