San Francisco Opera’s home, the War Memorial Opera House, is a hospitable venue for the walls of sound that emanate from the richly orchestrated works of Wagner, Puccini and Richard Strauss. It proved equally hospitable to the extraordinary operatic heavy metal sound created by the technologically-savvy composer Mason Bates. The composer’s electronic instrumentation proved a praiseworthy extension of the already awesome sound of the full San Francisco Opera Orchestra
Six years ago, I reported on the world premiere of the opera “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” [World Premiere Review: Ovations for the (R)evolution of Steve Jobs – Santa Fe Opera, July 22, 2017]. The world premiere performance, in Santa Fe Opera’s John Crosby Theater, partly open to the New Mexico night, was beautifully done. The performance in San Francisco’s acoustically vibrant War Memorial proved to be a sonic enhancement over the previous experience in Santa Fe.
The one-act opera is one of the most successful 21st century operas. I regard the word play in the opera title’s syntax as suggesting two main subjects, Steve Jobs’ “revolution” (in this opera, the Apple iPhone), and Steve Jobs’ “evolution”, his transcendence through Zen Buddhism.
John Moore’s Steve Jobs
In the role of Steve Jobs, Iowa baritone John Moore was an effective presence as Jobs, showing mastery of the vocal patter of the musical passage communication/ entertainment/ Information/ Illumination/ connection/ interaction/ navigation/ communication/ inspiration/ comprehension/not to mention communication that librettist Mark Campbell and composer Mason Bates created for Jobs’ exposition of his revolutionary invention.
[Below: Steve Jobs (John Moore, center) in 2007 holds the newly introduced iPhone in the air; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Moore, who also has demonstrated excellence in such standard opera repertory roles as Count Almaviva [Review: A Captivating “Marriage of Figaro” Opens San Diego Opera’s 54th Season – October 20, 2018] and Eugene Onegin [Review: Seattle Opera’s Melodious “Eugene Onegin” led by John Moore and Marjukka Tepponen, January 11, 2020] excelled in this contemporary opera.
Sasha Cooke’s Laurene Jobs
Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is one of two artists (along with Wei Wu) that created their present roles at the opera’s 2017 world premiere. Since then, the opera has been revised, with most of revisions relating to its presentation of Steve Jobs’ wife, Laurene, as an equal partner in her marriage to Steve. Cooke had drawn praise for her original Santa Fe performances. As Steve’s equal partner in marriage, she was even more impactful in the current production, both vocally and dramatically.
[Below: Sasha Cooke as Laurene Jobs; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Cooke’s association with the San Francisco Opera began a decade ago in the title role in the world premiere of a Mark Adamo opera [Review: Warm Reception for Adamo’s “Mary Magdalene” – San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2013]. That world premiere, like “Steve Jobs” also involved conductor Michael Christie and director Kevin Newbury,
Cooke has proven to be outstanding in a range of roles, including Magdalena [Review: McVicar’s Magical, Masterful “Meistersinger” – San Francisco Opera, November 18, 2015], Orlando [Review: A Finely Sung “Orlando” Melds Handel’s Seductive Music with Harry Fehr’s Surreal Staging – San Francisco Opera, June 9, 2019] and Hansel [Review: A joyous “Hansel and Gretel” in Doug Fitch’s enchanting production – Los Angeles Opera, December 9, 2018 and Review: A “Must See” San Francisco Opera Production of “Hansel and Gretel”- November 17, 2019]
Wei Wu’s Kobun Chino Otagawa and Bille Bruley’s Steve Wozniak and Other Cast Members
Chinese bass Wei Wu repeated his world premiere role of the Zen master Kobun Chino Otagawa, who supervised Jobs’ conversion to Buddhism. It is Otagawa who, working with Laurene, persuades Steve to adopt Zen meditation as a means to bring order to Jobs’ tumultuous life. Once again, Wu’s mellow bass voice brought authority to such musical passages as Take One Step.
[Below: Kobun Chino Otagawa (Wei Wu, right) encourages Steve Jobs (John Moore, seated, left) to engage in Zen meditation; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Texas tenor Bille Bruley took on the role of Jobs’ fellow techie, Steve Wozniak. Bruley’s bright-sounding tenor was effective in establishing the character of “Woz”- Jobs’ partner in creating disruptive technology. With dramatic effectiveness, Bruley delivered Wozniak’s monologue decrying Jobs’ abandonment of the dreams they shared when working together in Jobs’ father’s garage.
[Below: Steve Jobs (John Moore, right) works with Steve Wozniak (Bille Bruley, left) to create a revolutionary device; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
This is the second opportunity to see Bruley perform in a 21st century opera [World Premiere Review: Poul Ruders’ “Thirteenth Child” – Santa Fe Opera, July 27, 2019]. Additionally. earlier this year, I had praised Bruley’s performance as Wagner’s Erik [Review: Nicholas Brownlee, Elza van den Heever Lead a Vocally Splendid Cast for Director David Alden’s New Production of “Flying Dutchman” – Santa Fe Opera, July 1, 2023.
Canadian soprano and San Francisco Opera Adler fellow Olivia Smith was convincing in the role of Steve Jobs’ first girl friend, Chrisann Brennan, who not only shared early sexual experiences and experimented with LSD with him, but provided him with a daughter, Lisa. The role of Chrisann, to whom Jobs shows anger and lack of control, is significant in setting up the “evolution of Steve Jobs” theme of the opera.
[Below: Steve Jobs (John Moore, left) and Chrisann Brennan (Olivia Smith, right) trip out on LSD; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Two other Adler fellows took part in the performance. Georgia baritone Joseph Lattanzi, Jr. sang the role of Steve’s father, Paul. Mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Beteag was a teacher.
Other roles were sung by California soprano Angela Moser, California barione Jere Torkelsen. Pennsylvania tenor Michael Jankosky, Australian soprano Stella Hancock, New York tenor Christopher Jackson, Califorrnia soprano Liesl McPherrin, California baritone Andrew Thomas Pardini and California mezzo-soprano Silvie Jensen.
Maestro Michael Christie and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Maestro Michael Christie made his San Francisco Opera debut conducting the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s “The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene” [A Second Look Review: San Francisco Opera Mounts Adamo’s “Mary Magdalene” Magnificently – July 7, 2013]. Christie returns to the San Francisco Opera for “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” a decade later.
[Below: Maestro Michael Christie; edited image of a Bradford Roghe photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera
Christie demonstrated a strong grasp of the potential operatic future of electronic music melded with the traditional mix of instruments that constitute the present-day opera orchestra. Under Christie’s guidance, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, augmented by the electronic elements, performed triumphantly. I have also enjoyed Christie’s conducting of the very different operatic style of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart [Review: Kathryn Lewek Leads Strong Cast for “Abduction from the Seraglio” – Lyric Opera of Kansas City, September 27, 2019].
[Below: Composer Mason Bates (seated, right) performs electronic music, while San Francisco Opera Orchestra member Thalia Moore plays the cello; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
The San Francisco Opera Chorus was directed by Pennsylvania Chorus Director John Keene.
Mason Bates Musical Composition and Mark Campbell’s Libretto
Virginia composer Mason Bates’ “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” differs in style from every other operatic composition, yet has proved to be one of the most interesting and most performed new operas of the past decade.
[Below: Composer Mason Bates; edited image of a publicity photograph.]
Mark Campbell’s libretto, rather than creating a biographical portrait of Jobs, consists of a series of episodes extracted from Jobs’ life, that lead to the iphone (the “Revolution”) and Jobs’ efforts to bring order to his life (the “evolution”).
[Below: Librettist Mark Campbell; edited image of a Stephen Tracy photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Other operas with Mark Campbell libretti that I have discussed on these pages include operas by Kevin Puts [Review: Glimmerglass Festival’s “Silent Night”, Profoundly Moving Content, Stylishly Performed, July 22, 2018] and John Musto [Review: Pictures at an Exhibition – John Musto’s Opera “Later the Same Evening” Brings Edward Hopper’s Art to Life – Glimmerglass Festival, August 13, 2011]
Director Kevin Newbury
Maine director Kevin Newbury has several San Francisco Opera productions to his credit, including the Adamo “Mary Magdalene” world premiere. He is part of an artistic trio that includes Sasha Cooke and conductor Michael Christie. All three have participated in two world premieres – Adamo’s 2013 “Magdalene” in San Francisco and Bates’ 2017 “Steve Jobs” in Santa Fe – in addition to San Francisco Opera’s 2023 production of “Steve Jobs”.
[Below: Director Kevin Newbury; edited image, based on a Macrus Shields photograph from kevinnewbury.com.]
Designer Victoria Vita Tzykum
The inventive sets were the work of Ukrainian designer Victoria Vita Tzykum, with whom Newbury, in recent years, has collaborated on several productions. Between the 2017 “Steve Jobs” world premiere and the opera’s 2023 performances at San Francisco, I reported on two of these innovative productions.
[Below: Steve Jobs (John Moore, center) discusses the iPhone in front of a wall of iphone apps; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy fo the San Francsico Opera.]
An imaginative production that I admired arising from this collaboration is a production of “Faust” performed at the Lyric Opera of Chicago [Review: Benjamin Bernheim Leads Superb “Faust” Cast – Lyric Opera of Chicago, March 12, 2018]. I also reported on a “repurposed” production that became Donizetti’s “La Favorite” [Review: Jamie Barton, a Phenomenon in “La Favorite” – Houston Grand Opera, January 24, 2020.]
[Below: Victoria Vita Tzykun; edited image of a David Adam Moore photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
California designer Paul Carey created the costumes, North Carolina designer Japery Weideman the lighting. The projects were designed by 59 Productions (of London and New York). The projections were designed by New York designer Ben Pearcy and North Carolina associate designer Brad Peterson. The sound designer and mixing engineer was New York’s Rick Jacobsohn. The original choreography was created by Texas choreographer Chloe Treat. Irish choreographeer Colm Seery choreographed the revival.
[Below: Steve Jobs (John Moore, front left, holding, iPhone); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
I enthusiastically recommend “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” both to veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.