Classical music institutions’ approach to social media, the internet, and the younger generation has historically been a bit quaint: the old folks trying to be wild and crazy guys. But God knows they keep trying – particularly in the quest for the Great Internet Opera. We had Nico Muhly and “Two Boys,” which was hampered in its goal of being cutting-edge by being saddled with a grievously un-hip librettist and a somewhat dated story. Now, we have Mason Bates and Steve Jobs; on Wednesday, the Santa Fe Opera announced the premiere of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” with music by Bates and a libretto by the ubiquitous Mark Campbell, coming in 2017.
Bates, 38, who lives in San Francisco and starts in a few weeks as the Kennedy Center’s first-ever composer-in-residence, is the epitome of classical music hip-ness: he’s active as a DJ as well as a composer, and thus moves back and forth between the worlds of classical and electronica. The sparse information released in Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t specifically reveal whether or not there is an electronic component to the Jobs opera, though much of Bates’s music does include it. It does indicate that this is a bio-opera, with roles for Jobs’s father and at least one failed romantic relationship.
However “cool” it may appear, you can’t judge an opera by its subject. The biggest hope for “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” is that Bates has shown a flair for the dramatic in past compositions, including, most recently, “Anthology of Fantastic Zoology,” written for Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony, where the composer just wrapped up a 5-year tenure as Composer-in-Residence. The piece was involving, dramatic, varied, and sometimes beautiful without being facile: no mean feat in a cynical world, and a step forward in an already impressive oeuvre. Bates is one of the most-performed living American composers, and the interest of his new opera lies in how well he translates his considerable talents to the stage. But if he’s a little more hip and a little less geeky than some of his colleagues, it certainly can’t hurt.