Austin Opera probes the power and perils of Steve Jobs’ (r)evolution connection: Homegrown company launches new collaborative production for the nation

Opera music

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (Courtesy of Austin Opera)

“We choose pieces that we think will make sense for Austin.” So says Austin Opera’s Executive Director and CEO, Annie Burridge, and that’s why the company is mounting a new production of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobsa fitting work for a city she describes as being “at the intersection of innovation and barbecue”.

Directed by Tomer Zvulun and directed by Timothy Myers, this new production returns John Moore to the lead role (which he previously played in Seattle) as the apple grower observes his life, career and often-faulty relationship with his former romantic partner. , Chrisann Brennan (Madison Leonard), his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs (Sarah Larsen), his friend and tech peer, Steve Wozniak (Bille Bruley), and his spiritual mentor, Zen Buddhist priest Kobun Chino Otogawa (Wei Wu). Burridge called it “a very honest portrayal. … It shows the ugly, it shows the love and stability that Laurene bought into her life, it shows some of the good parts of her relationship with Chrisann, but also some of the parts brutal where he denied paternity [their daughter] Lisa.”

Unlike the tech industry where products are often rushed to market, staging an opera is a complicated process that can take half a decade. The original 2017 production of Steve Jobs was a Grammy-winning success for the Santa Fe Opera Commissioning Company, but Burridge was planning a staging in Austin even before those accolades and successes. Her planning began in 2016, just as she joined Austin Opera from the Philadelphia Opera House, and she even considered making the original version a co-production with Santa Fe. Unfortunately, she says, “when he were brass thumbtacks, it would have cost two to three times more than standard production, [and] During my first few weeks on the job, I didn’t think I should commit to it.”

It was the combination of composer Mason Bates and librettist Mark Campbell that initially intrigued her, and being in the audience at opening night in Santa Fe only heightened her interest, not least because of the how Bates’ music blended with the subject. “What he’s known for is incorporating electronic sounds into really exciting and accessible classical music. … He’s also been a house DJ, so there’s a catchy rhythmic pulse to his music that lines up so perfectly on what you imagine the soundtrack to innovation might be.” Likewise, she found Campbell’s libretto surprising. “I never expected a portrait of such a changeable and volatile man to be so touching.” Austin Opera’s Big Hit of 2019 with Zvulun’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Campbell’s Direction silent night further reinforced the idea that this was the right job for this audience and the right director for this piece, and so dates were set for 2021 – which of course never happened, thanks to COVID -19.

Austin Opera’s Annie Burridge (Courtesy of Austin Opera)

While Austin Opera entered the virtual space early, while also holding drive-in performances with Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, the decision was made to push this production back until they could ride again. in-person performances. The company returned at the end of last year with Tosca and Figaro’s weddingand even with the push from Omicron, the decision was made to keep the scheduled dates for Steve Jobs, rather than risk losing it altogether. “You get to a point where you can’t reschedule. These artists are booked for the next few years, so you can’t get the team together. You just have to go out there and throw all the safety precautions you can around. she. “

“There is a motor and rhythmic impulse to [Mason Bates’] music that aligns so perfectly with what you imagine to be the soundtrack of innovation. – Annie Burridge, General Manager and CEO of Austin Opera

It wasn’t just about putting on a show in Austin. While the idea of ​​a co-production with Santa Fe fell through, Burridge was still determined to create something within the national opera community, “a physical production that we can stage and that can be viewed by other companies”. Specifically, the production would be aimed at those on the same level as Austin, “companies under $10 million.” Talks began with the Atlanta Opera, then Kansas City joined, and during the pandemic the ranks of the consortium grew. “We now have Utah and Calgary as well, so we’re all cost sharing.”

Appropriately for the subject of opera, the ongoing tech diaspora from shore to Austin has put added pressure on the company to excel beyond what one would expect of a small business in a small town. With these newly minted Austinites, she said, “if they like opera, they’ve seen opera in New York or LA or San Francisco, so we have to put something on stage that would be successful. in those major markets. The way we can do that as a $4-5 million organization is to partner with other opera companies.” However, it’s not just about funding, Burridge said. Dozens of planned productions nationwide have been scrapped due to the pandemic, so “it’s a testament to the shared belief in this play and this production that it has remained on everyone’s schedule.”

The result is a production, with stage and costume design by Jacob A. Climer and projection design by S. Katy Tucker, that delves into the high-tech aspects of the story. Burridge explained, “The stage is covered with screens and computer monitors, and it relies on the highest projection quality technology available in theatre.” As part of the original collaborative mission, it is intended to be flexible, with a modular set that can be restructured to adapt to the performance space. “If you’re a symphony hall, for example, you can perform it with the orchestra behind the board,” Burridge said, and that’s important because Bates only trails John Adams as the most likely modern American composer. to be performed by American symphony orchestras. .

For Burridge, it’s the emotional center of the opera that audiences will associate with, and it’s a central part of Jobs’ technological ambitions that he hasn’t always replicated in his personal life. “It asks us some questions about what matters. What are the wonderful things about how we’re all connected now, and what are some of the pitfalls and dangers.”


Austin Opera Presents The (R)evolution of Steve JobsFebruary 3, 5, 6, at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. austinopera.org.