Death and the Powers recording session

This just in from Tod Machover’s Facebook:

“Finished the DEATH AND THE POWERS recording today with two fabulous sessions. All the singers, the BMOP players, conductor Gil Rose, and the whole recording and tech team did an amazing job. I am SO happy that the music is in the can; now we enter the editing and post-production phase which will take a while but will be a total pleasure. Look for the release this spring!!”

Photos by Tod Machover

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Meet the Artists – Jim Maddalena (Simon Powers)

James Maddalena

The role of Simon Powers is performed by the renowned baritone, James Maddalena.  Simon is described as “a billionaire entrepreneur obsessed with his death.  Mid-sixties.  Mad, eccentric, charismatic, virile, successful.  Has a devilish side to him, mischievous.” Maddalena appears on stage in the first scene, at the end of which he vanishes into The System that he has constructed in order to perpetuate his presence in the world after his physical body dies. For the rest of the opera, he performs his role off-stage.  Sensors measure his voice and gestures in real time and represent his emotions and movement through the massive moving walls and musical chandelier.

Here is an excerpt from Scene 1 of Death and the Powers, recorded during rehearsal at the Cutler Majestic Theater in Boston, August 2010. Libretto by Robert Pinsky.

SIMON
“Once out of Nature I will never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
From hammered gold and gold enameling…”

Da-da, da-du-dum, mechanical parakeet…
“And set upon a golden bough to sing.”

Ah, the immortal William Yeats!
He can have his bird.
Yeats, I give you the bird!


Maddalena commands a large and varied repertoire ranging from Monteverdi to contemporary opera. He first gained international recognition for his notable portrayal of the title role in the world premier of John Adams’ Nixon in China, directed by Peter Sellars at Houston Grand Opera. His association with John Adams continued in two more recent roles: the Captain in Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, which premiered at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels and  received performances at the Opera de Lyon, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, San Francisco Opera, and at the Vienna Festival prior to being recorded by Nonesuch under Kent Nagano; and Jack Hubbard in Doctor Atomic for San Francisco Opera. In September 2010,  Maddalena will make his debut with the Opera de Monte-Carlo in the premiere of Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers.

An active concert artist, Maddalena can be heard in repertoire ranging from Bach to Hindemith. He has performed The Messiah with Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, Hindemith’s Requiem with Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Orchestra of the Accademia di Santi Cecilia in Rome, the St. John Passion in Turn, Italy, Harbison’s Words from Paterson with the San Francisco Symphony, and Carmina Burana in Seville, Spain and Palermo, Italy. He sang Schubert’s Die Winterreise at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Robert Spano as accompanist and the complete cycle of Bach cantatas with Boston’s Emmanuel Music.

Maddalena has recorded for Decca/London, BMG, Classical Catalyst, Nonesuch, Teldec, Sony Classical, Harmonia Mundi, and EMI. He can be heard on the Grammy Award-winning recording of Nixon In China (Nonesuch) and the Emmy Award-winning PBS telecast, now on DVD.

View James Maddalena’s profile at California Artists Management.

Meet the Team – Elly Jessop, Interaction Designer

Elly fitting sensors onto Jim Maddalena

For Death and the Powers, I have primarily been working on the interactive systems, including the wearable sensors and vocal analysis system that we use to transform Jim Maddalena’s live performance into the performance of the entire theatrical set. It’s a terrific theatrical challenge: what do you do when your main performer is not actually visible to the audience, but has to be present in a completely non-anthropomorphic form? I’m measuring all kinds of elements of Jim’s performance, from his singing voice to his gestures to his breath, and abstracting all of these elements into complex parameters that convey the character’s emotional expressivity, like the qualities of his movement or the timbre of his voice. These parameters can then be mapped to parameters of the graphical system that drives the visual content on the three “bookshelves” of the set. These mappings are not naïve or one-to-one, with just one particular sensor linked to just one parameter of the visual output. Instead we’re creating sophisticated and rich connections that make the walls seem alive and able to convey the presence of Simon Powers.

One important part of this work was to create a mapping system that would be very flexible and react appropriately to the fast-paced theatrical rehearsal process. The visual system is capable of creating an enormous variety of representations of Simon Powers; as those representations change and develop from scene to scene and during the course of rehearsals, the way that they’re controlled by the live performance has to change as well. I have to be able to adjust the mappings between Jim’s performance and the visuals  immediately when given directions from Diane Paulus or visual notes from Alex McDowell, without having to stop the program to make changes. The rehearsal process so far has been testing that system, but it seems to be working successfully!

Read more about Elly Jessop