So begins Death and the Powers, a groundbreaking new opera created by Tod Machover with his Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab, to receive its world premiere September 24, 2010 at l'Opéra de Monte-Carlo; its United States premiere March 18, 2011 with Harvard's American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) and Opera Boston; and its Midwest premiere April 2, 2011 at Chicago Opera Theater.
The libretto for Death and the Powers is written by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky from a story by Pinsky and Randy Weiner and directed by Diane Paulus, who is renowned for her talent in delivering adventurous productions through audience participation devices, as in her recent revival of HAIR on Broadway. Ms. Paulus is joined by choreographer Karole Armitage and production designer Alex McDowell, who is best known as the creative director behind such films as Minority Report and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The music is performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose.
This cutting-edge work explores themes of mortality and legacy, and what we leave behind of ourselves for the world and our loved ones. Machover-called "America's most wired composer" by the Los Angeles Times-elegantly blends his technological and artistic expertise to create an inventive score filled with arching melodic lines, richly nuanced textures and propulsive rhythms. Death and the Powers additionally introduces specially-designed technology and an animated set-including a chorus of robots and a musical chandelier-assuredly launching a new era in opera production and expression.
Death and the Powers is a one-act, full evening work which tells the story of Simon Powers, a rich, successful and powerful businessman and inventor, who wishes to perpetuate his existence beyond the decay of his physical being. Reaching the end of his life, Powers faces the question of his legacy: When I die, what remains? What will I leave behind? What can I control? What can I perpetuate? Using his vast resources, Powers devises a way to 'download' himself into his environment. This transformation turns every object in his surroundings-such as his books, furniture and walls-into a collective, living version of himself, called The System. His family, friends and business associates are left not only to figure out if this new ‘environment' is, in fact, a true embodiment of Powers, but how this transformation impacts their relationship with him and their ability to move forward with their own lives and legacies.
Death and the Powers sets itself apart from other operas with its pioneering performance technologies, developed by Machover's Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab. The stage represents Simon's house, but this environment gradually reveals itself to be the vast, interconnected, intelligent ‘System' of Powers' continuing presence. As the opera progresses, the set ‘comes alive' with Simon's thoughts, feelings, memories and desires. A new technique called Disembodied Performance uses innovative sensors and analysis software to translate James Maddalena's conscious and unconscious sounds and gestures into the behavior of the set. In this way, The System reflects Simon Powers' transformed presence even after his physical body is no longer visible to the audience.
In addition to the animatronic set, the opera employs several other inventions developed especially for the production: a chorus of ‘Operabots' which narrate and react to the story; Mei-Mei Bots, pieces of furniture which morph and move; and a musical Chandelier, comprised of long strings which resonate via both remotely actuated electromagnets and by an on-stage performer plucking and dampening the strings.
Death and the Powers' cast features baritone James Maddalena as Simon Powers; mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley as Simon's third wife, Evvy; soprano Joélle Harvey as Simon's daughter, Miranda; tenor Hal Cazalet as Simon's research assistant and adopted son, Nicholas; countertenor Frank Kelley as ‘The United Way'; baritone David Kravitz as ‘The United Nations'; and bass Tom McNichols as ‘The Administration.'
For further information on Death and the Powers - including images and video - consult the opera's website. And to follow the continuing development of Death and the Powers, visit the Opera of the Future Blog created by writer Jess Kim. Ms. Kim reports directly from the research and rehearsal studios of the MIT Media Lab, giving readers an intimate view of what goes into bringing one of the most technically ambitious and visionary operas to the stage.
Generous support for Death and the Powers has been provided by the Monaco-based Futurum Association.
Whether it is creating genre-breaking compositions for the concert hall, "robotic" operas for worldwide stages, software that allows anyone to compose original music, or musical activities that can diagnose illness and restore health, Tod Machover 's unique vision is shaping the future of music. Machover is widely known for creating music that breaks traditional artistic and cultural boundaries, as well as for developing trailblazing inventions for music performance. He is Professor of Music and Media and Director of the Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab, and is also Visiting Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Machover's music has been commissioned and performed by many of the world's most important performers and ensembles and has received numerous international prizes and awards, including the "Chevalier des Arts et Lettres" from the French Culture Ministry. Machover has designed new music technologies-such as Hyperinstruments-for some of the world's greatest virtuosi, from Yo-Yo Ma to Prince, but also for young people, families, seniors, and the disabled. The popular videogames Guitar Hero and Rock Band grew out of this Hyperinstruments work in Machover's Lab. His Hyperscore software-which allows anyone to compose original music using lines and colors-has allowed children around the world to have their music performed by major orchestras as part of Machover's Toy Symphony project. This technology is increasingly used by people of all ages in cultural, educational and medical contexts. Machover is also noted for his visionary operas, including VALIS (based on Philip K. Dick's sci-fi classic), The Brain Opera (which invites the audience to collaborate live and online, and has been installed since 2000 at Vienna's House of Music), and Skellig, which premiered in the UK in November 2008 to rave reviews. To read Tod Machover's full biography, click here.
MIT Media Lab and the Opera of the Future Group
The MIT Media Lab applies an unorthodox research approach to envision the impact of emerging technologies on everyday life-technologies that promise to fundamentally transform our most basic notions of human capabilities. The Lab's Opera of the Future Group - founded and directed by Tod Machover - explores concepts and techniques to help advance the future of musical composition, performance, learning and expression, with a particular focus on opera. The scope of research includes musical instrument design, concepts for new performance spaces, interactive touring, permanent installations, musical toys, and some very unusual operas. Through the design of new interfaces for both professional virtuosi and amateur music-lovers, the development of new techniques for interpreting and mapping expressive gesture, and the application of these technologies to innovative compositions and experiences, the Opera of the Future Group seeks to enhance music as a performance art, and to develop its transformative power as counterpoint to our everyday lives. To learn more about the MIT Media Lab, click here. To learn more about the Opera of the Future Group, click here.
Robert Pinsky is widely considered to be one of America's greatest writers, and has received numerous international awards and consistently been on international best-seller lists. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1997 to 2000, and is currently poetry editor of Slate, a contributor to The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and a professor in the graduate writing program at Boston University. He is the author of six books of poetry, several volumes of essays, and numerous edited anthologies. Pinsky's book The Inferno of Dante, a new verse translation, was awarded the "Los Angeles Times Book Award" in poetry and the "Howard Morton Landon Prize" for translation. To learn more about Robert Pinsky, click here.
Randy Weiner is a writer/director whose projects span theater, film, and television. He has been commissioned by such organizations as the Music-Theatre Group in New York City and the Ambassador Theater Group in London. Weiner co-wrote Club 12, a hip-hop version of "Twelfth Night," featuring Grammy Award-winning singers Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean, presented by the Shubert Organization. He has written music-based film and television projects for MTV, FOX, HBO, Quincy Jones Entertainment and Warner Brothers. In addition, Weiner founded Fan2Fan.com, one of today's leading music marketing companies. He is also co-founder and managing director of The Box theater club in New York. To learn more about Randy Weiner, click here.
Diane Paulus is a director of opera and theater, and since fall 2009 has been Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.). Her recent theater work includes The Public Theater's revival of Hair at the Delacorte in Central Park, now transferred to Broadway (nominated for 8 Tony Awards including Best Director, as well as winner of a Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama League Award for Best Revival of a Musical). As an opera director, her productions include Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro, Turn Of The Screw, Cosí fan tutte, and all three Monteverdi operas, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, L'incoronazione di Poppea, and Orfeo at the Chicago Opera Theater. To learn more about Diane Paulus, click here.
McDowell has served as production designer for such films as Fight Club, Minority Report, The Terminal, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Corpse Bride. For Minority Report, McDowell established the first fully integrated digital design department in the film industry, enabling the strands of 2D and 3D design, set construction, camera, prop manufacturing and post-production VFX to be efficiently linked and managed by the Design Team. McDowell is the founder of the revolutionary design and engineering think tank known as ‘matter,' and is co-founder of the 5D Conference of Immersive Design. Death and the Powers is his first opera project. To learn more about Alex McDowell, click here.
Karole Armitage began her professional career in 1973 as a member of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, followed by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. She is Artistic Director of Armitage Gone! Dance, which was launched in 2005. She has created dances for numerous companies throughout Europe and America, directed operas from the baroque and contemporary repertoire for many of the prestigious houses of Europe, and choreographed videos for pop icons Madonna and Michael Jackson and the filmmakers Merchant and Ivory. Armitage's choreography was first seen on Broadway in the musical Passing Strange, followed by Hair, for which she garnered a Tony nomination for choreography. To learn more about Karole Armitage, click here.
DEATH AND THE POWERS
Tod Machover, Composer/Creative Director
Robert Pinsky, Librettist
Randy Weiner and Robert Pinsky, Story
Diane Paulus, Director
Alex McDowell, Production Designer
Karole Armitage, Choreographer
Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), orchestra
Gil Rose, Conductor
New Performance Technologies by MIT Media Lab
James Maddalena, baritone: Simon Powers
Patricia Risley, mezzo-soprano: Evvy
Joélle Harvey, soprano: Miranda
Hal Cazalet, tenor: Nicholas
Frank Kelley, countertenor: The United Way
David Kravitz, baritone: The United Nations
Tom McNichols, bass: The Administration
2 Keyboards (with electronics)
WORLD PREMIERE - MONACO
L'Opéra de Monte-Carlo - Salle Garnier
Friday, September 24, 2010 at 8:00pm (invitation only)
Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 8:00pm
Sunday, 26, 2010 and 3pm and 8:00pm
UNITED STATES PREMIERE - BOSTON
American Repertory Theater and Opera Boston - Cutler Majestic Theater
Presented as part of MIT's 150th Anniversary Celebration
Friday, March 18, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Curtain times TBD
MIDWEST PREMIERE - CHICAGO
Chicago Opera Theater
Harris Theater at Millennium Park
Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:30pm
Friday, April 8, 2011 at 7:30pm
Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 3:00pm
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