A psyche in vignettes: Steve Jobs in Kansas CityReview
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs with music by Mason Bates and libretto by Mark Campbell opened at Lyric Opera of Kansas City on March 11 at the Kauffman Center for three performances.
The orchestra was conducted by Michael Christie, who conducted the world premiere and the Grammy Award-winning recording of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs at The Santa Fe Opera. The orchestra played the complex score with finesse under his direction. Baritone John Moore sang the demanding title character. Jobs’ spiritual leader Kobūn was sung by bass Wei Wu, who sang the role in the original production in 2017. Set and costumes were designed by Jacob A. Climer; the stage had a scaffold and projections above and each side of the stage of monitors. Projections were designed by S. Katy Tucker and Blake Manns.
The supporting characters were the highlight for me, Steve Wozniak was sung by tenor Billie Bruley and soprano Madison Leonard sang the role of Chrisann Brennan. Chrisann was the most compelling character of the night for me. (Her appearances were too brief, in my opinion! I think the character could have had even more development and more arias.) Brennan was pushed aside on stage musically and physically— much like real life, I suppose. I have a soft spot for Wozniak — perhaps it was his stint on Dancing With the Stars — and I enjoyed Bruley’s portrayal. Wozniak’s dramatic exit from Apple provided something of an apex of the opera’s drama. “You’ve become one of the people we hated! A Goliath” was striking with him positioned on the top of the scaffolding. The following trio between Jobs, Wozniak and Brennan each expressing their frustrations at Apple’s seemingly shifted priorities. Jobs is then fired by his own board — the chorus, who at times were also mourners, Apple employees and board members all dressed in black turtlenecks and jeans.
The whole structure of the work is a psychological drama — the opera is a series of vignettes not in chronological order. The audience was meant to be looking into Jobs’ “mind palace” for ninety minutes, and it was effective in many ways. Major aspects of Jobs’ psyche were written into the libretto and music. His perfectionism, intense spirituality, emotional manipulation, genius etc., were explored. What I found blatantly absent was mention of the fact that Steve Jobs was an adopted child. The vicious denials of paternity to his daughter Lisa, and rejection of his girlfriend Chrisanne were appropriately shocking in the opera (Jobs even sang a the biting retort from a Times article “28% of the male population could be the father!”) The dramatic irony of someone denying paternity (but yet still naming his first computer model after his daughter Lisa) who was no doubt questioning his own lineage is fascinating. Jobs’ treatment of the women, and other people, in his life is a dark theme in the work.
Mezzo soprano Sarah Larsen played Jobs’ wife Laurene Powell. There were touching moments between Jobs and Powell, with Larsen and Moore’s voices blending together well. The character of Powell, much like in real life, humanized Jobs. His denial of his own illness was heartbreaking, and in the ultimate look at one’s own mortality, Jobs made an appearance at his own memorial service, which closed the opera. As Jobs looked on, Powell eulogized, entreating the audience to look beyond technology and experience the world around us. (“But keep buying iPhones, just put them down once in a while!”)
I found this monologue to be a bit trite — the argument about the evils of technology does not have the same ring that it once did pre-pandemic. My iPhone (and Macbook and iPad) kept me connected to my loved ones in isolation. Technology, and the infamous “pocket computers” did more than Jobs could have ever imagined during a global pandemic.