John Moore as Steve Jobs in "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" film. (credit: Felipe Barral / The Atlanta Opera)

From stage to screen: “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” is captivating, powerful, and timely opera on film

VIDEO REVIEW:
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
Release: February 24, 2023
The Atlanta Opera Film Studio
Atlanta, Georgia – USA

Mason Bates, composer; Mark Campbell, librettist.
Film co-directed by Tomer Zvulun & Felipe Barral; Tomer Zvulun & Felipe Barral, executive producers; Felipe Barral & Amanda Sachtleben, producers; Felipe Barral, lead cinematographer, drone cinematography & editor; Amanda Sachtleben, second camera; Christina Massad & Darvensky Lewis, additional camera; Rick Jacobsohn & Tim Whitehead, sound recording; Rick Jacobsohn, audio mix & mastering. Creative: Michael Christie, conductor; Tomer Zvulun, production director; Rebecca Herman, associate production director; Jacob A. Climer, scenic & costume designer; Robert Wierzel, lighting designer; S. Katy Tucker, projection designer; Rick Jacobsohn, sound designer; Melanie Steele, wig & makeup designer; Marcella Barbeaum associate lighting designer; Blake Manns, associate projections designer; Felipe Barral & Amanda Sachtleben, filmed media.
Cast: John Moore (Steve Jobs), Sarah Larsen (Laurene Powell Jobs), Bille Bruley (Steve Wozniak), Elizabeth Sutphen (Chrisann Brennan), Adam Lau (Kōbun Chino Otogawa), Daniel Armstrong (Paul Jobs), Gretchen Krupp (Teacher); Joseph Waller (Young Steve Jobs).
Elena Kholodova, musical preparation; Rolando Salazar, chorus master; Aaron breid, assistant conductor; Ricardo Aponte, assistant director; Megan Bennett, production stage manager; Beth Godill & Kristin Kelley; Mark campbell, subtitle creation; Valerie Pool, subtitle operator; james Zellers, orchestra personnel manager. The Atlanta Opera Chorus; the Atlanta Opera Orchestra.

Howard Wershil | 28 JUL 2023

I have to begin this review with a terrible confession. For many years, as a child and young adult, I really didn’t enjoy opera at all. This historic characteristic, unfortunately, makes me quite embarrassingly distinct among similarly trained and dedicated musicians. That characteristic did begin to fade with the advent of exposure to operas by contemporary composers such as Philip Glass and John Adams, and, anecdotally, from a friendship, prior to that exposure, with a true lover and self-made scholar of late 19th-century opera. What, as a child, I heard as simply a sheen of outrageous, purposeless vocal bombast and vibrato, I came to grasp and appreciate as a vehicle for the expression of the vast range of life challenges we all experience as humans on this earth.

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs certainly provides us with a very worthy vehicle for that expression. I was exceptionally moved by its power to communicate and its sense of immediacy and relevance.


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The arc of the activity in this opera spans the timeline of Steve Job’s life in a non-linear fashion, in the context of his experiencing memories of his life, allowing us to witness juxtapositions of character and personality changes in a much starker contrast than a linear timeline would provide. As with most successful vehicles of narrative, be they opera, film, literature, dance, or any other kind of human creative expression, this opera deals not so much with the settings and circumstances imbued in the opera as with the spectrums of our human emotions, desires, abilities, limitations, and experiences.

In this sense, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs deals profoundly and successfully with Steve Jobs the man, not merely Steve Jobs the innovator. We are invited to relate to, identify with, sympathize with, and even empathize with the protagonist presented to us, sometimes uncomfortably so, but more often with reassurance and validation as to our own place in an unpredictable world. Such is the beauty of art in general and of this opera as well: we are offered a welcome opportunity to give our very existence – for all of us – context, meaning, perspective, and value.

Both composer Mason Bates and librettist Mark Campbell have accumulated well-deserved accolades in the course of their careers. Mason Bates has received a number of awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Grammy (Best Opera Recording for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs), Rome Prize, and an American Academy in Berlin Prize, to name a few. He has received commissions and performances from several orchestras, including The Phoenix Symphony, The Atlanta Symphony, The National Symphony, and The San Francisco Symphony. He has also been composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center, with The Pittsburgh Symphony, and The Chicago Symphony.

l-r:  John Moore as Steve and Bille Bruley as Steve Wozniak. (credit: Felipe Barral / The Atlanta Opera Film Studio)

l-r: John Moore as Steve and Bille Bruley as Steve Wozniak. (credit: Felipe Barral / The Atlanta Opera Film Studio)

Mark Campbell has written 40 opera librettos, lyrics for seven musicals, and text for six song cycles and four oratorios. His operas have been produced by some of the most prominent opera companies in the U.S., including The Atlanta Opera, The Boston Lyric Opera, The Houston Grand Opera, The Hawaii Opera Theatre, The New York City Opera, and many others. Awards include a Pulitzer Prize in Music, a New York State Council on the Arts award, and a Hewlett Foundation award. The awards list is expansive.

Their singular collaboration on The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs is fortunate for all of us.

Mason Bates speaks to us in an orchestral musical language peppered with the sonics of electroacoustic music. The musical canvas itself draws heavily on the foundation for operatic music provided by John Adams, but Bates’ own twists and turns take the language to the next level and beyond. Particularly enjoyable is a bright, colorful sense of orchestration that, throughout the opera, provides both a sense of jubilation and a tone of tenderness and intimacy, each when needed.


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In truth, some of the orchestration is truly breathtaking, not only from the spectrum of stylistic variety presented by the composer within the confines of an essentially “listenable” musical language but in the composer’s uncanny ability to merge the message of the music with the message of the dialogue. Perhaps this is a characteristic of many great operas, but in this case, I found the melding excellence of music and dialog to far exceed my expectations.

Occasionally, the score also deftly incorporates and expounds upon the sonic musings of a far past composer. I won’t give away who. It’s much too nice a surprise!

As a result of his research, Mark Campbell’s libretto is crisp, articulate, bright, biting, sensitive, contemporary, and relevant. His command of its language, from the most intimate articulation to candid dialogue to pop references to common slang, is powerful. He is able to speak to us about Steve Jobs’s life — a life of very human shortcomings as well as a life in pursuit of perfection — in a fashion that ultimately compels us to connect.

Final scene from the film, "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs." (credit: Felipe Barral / The Atlanta Opera Film Studio)

Final scene from the film, “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.” (credit: Felipe Barral / The Atlanta Opera Film Studio)

It’s always remarkable to see how a film version of a stage event can enhance it. In a film version, subtle additions and variations to content, perhaps drawn from the actual stage event, then recombined, can more greatly immerse you in the event itself. Details such as camera angle and image superimposition, for instance, can offer greater depth to the experience, and such details are handled marvelously by the resources gathered by The Atlanta Opera Film Studio’s co-directors Tomer Zvulun (also Director of Stage Production) and Felipe Barral (also Director of Photography and Lead Cinematographer). This film production of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs is as fine as any opera production I’ve seen from The Metropolitan Opera. Perhaps even better!

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs is scheduled to be broadcast by Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) this Sunday, July 30, at 4:00 p.m. I highly recommend tuning in. If you’re a lover of opera, particularly contemporary opera, this is a cannot-be-missed event. If you’re not, but have a curiosity, here’s a wonderful jumping-off point for learning and exploration.

And if, like my childish, young adult self, you see no reason to tune in at all — then you must! In The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, you are given the most unique opportunity to open your heart, challenge your mind, and thrill your ears as you share the triumphs and shortcomings of an iconic individual.

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About the author:
Howard Wershil is an Atlanta-based contemporary music composer interested in a wide variety of genres from classical to cinematic to new age to pop and rock and roll. You can find his music on Soundcloud and Bandcamp (howardwershil.bandcamp.com), and follow him on Facebook under Howard Wershil, Composer.

Read more by Howard Wershil.
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