Reviews of “Death and the Powers” in Dallas

Nathan Hunsinger/Dallas Morning News Staff Photographer

Nathan Hunsinger/Dallas Morning News Staff Photographer

Congratulations to the cast, crew and incredible team that pulled off last night’s flawless opening night performance of the Dallas Opera’s production of “Death and the Powers”!! Much relief all around that the Operabots, moving walls and chandelier were all in splendid working order after three years in the warehouse.

Reviews are coming in! The Dallas Morning News’s morning-after review noted that the singers “get lines of remarkable naturalness, from speech-song to genuinely beautiful arias, duets and ensembles,” and said “it’s hard to imagine a finer performance, staged by Andrew Eggert and musically coordinated by conductor Nicole Paiement, with choreography by Karole Armitage. Both seen and video-processed, Robert Orth is a tour de force as Simon, his sinewy baritone faltering only in some low-ranging patches. Joélle Harvey and Patricia Risley sing radiantly as, respectively, Miranda and Evvy.” Continue reading


Dallas Arts+Culture on “Death and the Powers”

Excellent article on DEATH AND THE POWERS just out in the February issue of Arts+Culture Texas, one of the most prominent magazines in the state. We hear that rehearsals are going well for the show…which opens a week from today!!!

Read the full article: New Opera for a New Millennium

Joelle Harvey in Death and the Powers. Photo by Jonathan Williams.

Joelle Harvey in Death and the Powers. Photo by Jonathan Williams.

Death and the Powers Global Simulcast – Ticket links here

Dallas-death-and-the-powersbigThe Dallas Opera presents a new production of Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers, February 12-16. This visually spectacular robot pageant by the MIT Media Lab’s Opera of the Future group tells the story of Simon Powers, a powerful businessman and inventor nearing the end of his life, who downloads his consciousness into “The System” in an effort to project himself into the future. His family, friends, and associates must decide what this means, whether or not he is actually alive, how it affects them, and whether to follow.

The matinee performance on February 16 at 2:00 pm U.S. EST will be simulcast to ten locations across the United States and Europe, including New York, San Francisco, London, and at our home base, the MIT Media Lab. In addition to viewing the live, hi-def broadcast of the production, the Powers Live mobile application, developed in the Opera of the Future group, will allow you to virtually experience the performance. Live video, audio, and graphical content will be triggered in the app in sync with the performance, and your interaction will, in turn, influence the live show in Dallas. Powers Live is available for download starting February 1 for iOS 6/7 and Android 4.0+ devices.

Simulcast venues for February 16, 2:00 pm EST:

*By invitation only; please email to be placed on a wait list to attend.

“Death and the Powers” Global Simulcast details revealed

From Press Release:

The Dallas Opera launches an unparalleled new initiative combining opera and technology with the first-ever global interactive simulcast of an opera. Death and the Powers, written by acclaimed American composer, inventor and professor at the MIT Media Lab, Tod Machover, receives its Dallas Opera premiere performances in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center on February 12, 14, 15 and 16. On Sunday, February 16th at 2:00 pm Central Time, the opera will be simulcast to ten locations in the U.S. and abroad… Continue reading

Designing Operabots

Alex McDowell, production designer for Death and the Powers, shared these notes with us detailing his experience working on the production design of Death and the Powers. We thought they were worth sharing. Thanks Alex!

DEATH & THE POWERS – designing operabots
Alex McDowell, March 9 2011

Alex McDowell

Death and the Powers was my first experience working with live theater. One of the differences that emerged between developing sophisticated visual ideas for film and doing the same for theater, is that in film there is a huge resource of special and visual effects – in other words the ability to create a fictional reality that is primarily animation in its most sophisticated expression. Sadly, perhaps, this has created in the audience an expectation of polish and flair in any vision of the future, however thin the underlying ideas often may be.

So when it comes to developing, say, a new robot, one cannot hope to ‘compete’ between this animated fiction and the possibilities of a practical live theater prop.

For this reason alone, it made good design sense rather to focus on supporting the text and performance with a designed group of metaphorical set pieces, whether chandelier, library wall (that transforms as a symbol from bookshelf, to computer mainframe, to DNA,  and is the primary expressive medium for Simon Powers), or robot – all as the System’s cellular extensions of Simon’s earth-bound abilities. As a result, Tod, Diane and I tended to lean towards a minimalist simplicity that could exploit what theater does best: the visceral, reactive, live-chaotic performance that would engage both human performers and audience.  This is not finally about the technology at all, but about the music, the performance and the meaning of the text.

As a designer one tries to use any constraints of a project as a driving force.  In film these constraints might be more about time than money (though it’s always about the budget). In my involvement in this opera, the joy of this collaboration was the amount of time we had to develop the piece together. The heavy constraints were budget and resources. The design and outcome of the robots ultimately developed from the way the Media Lab works, and each design decision I made came from the options and possibilities of working with Tod’s group and with Diane’s team’s theater experience.  Here we had a group of young people who have more engineering, programming and creative capability than many of the practitioners in Hollywood, joining in an unprecedented and fascinating interaction between a deeply experienced team of Diane’s theater collaborators from ART and in Broadway production.

The final outcome of our process led to the Lab team (led by Bob Hsiung and Mike Miller) creating an artisanal workshop to produce and manufacture the whole idiosyncratic group of robots, which ultimately gave more individual personality and identity to the Operabots than any translation of my initial design would have received in a Hollywood production system.

It was a wonderful learning experience for all of us, one that also injected me with more adrenaline and intellectual stimulation than many of the film projects I’ve designed!

Article: Alex McDowell on Death and the Powers

Check out “A Night at the High-Tech Opera,” an article at Animation World Network that delves into production designer Alex McDowell’s work on the set of Death and the Powers. In an extensive interview, Alex describes the origins of his role in the opera, how his concepts for the production design evolved over time, the nature of his collaboration with the M.I.T. Media Lab team and the artistic vision driving the development of the technology.


Simon Powers beckons Miranda to enter The System


Working on Death and the Powers “really opened [me] up,” McDowell is quoted as saying in the article. “There’s the whole art/science thing that John [Underkoffler, Media Lab graduate and data interface designer for Minority Report] and I have been doing for a long time. Media Lab’s right in the center of that conversation: they have artistic people who are great scientists and programmers and computer engineers. They are these multi-talented kids who don’t see a difference between one or the other, whereas in our industry, we’re going, ‘Well, this is art and this is science, and this is production and this is post,’ making all these silos and separations.”