Mason Bates: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

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Mason Bates The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
Kelly Markgraf, Edward Parks, Adelaide Boedecker, Adam Bonanni, Kristen Choi, Thaddeus Ennen, Andrew Maughan, Corrie Stallings, Tyler Zimmerman, Sasha Cooke, Wei Wu; Santa Fe Opera/Michael Christie Pentatone PTC 5186 690 (hybrid CD/ SACD) 94:15 mins (2 discs)

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Orson Welles turned the life of a corporate monster into drama but Mason Bates’s Steve Jobs is no Charles Foster Kane. Indeed Mark Campbell’s libretto is as flat as an iPhone, wrapping itself around that ancient tale of a bad man saved by the love of a good woman. Bates’s Jobs, a supremely selfish perfectionist, is rescued by his wife Laurene with the help of a Buddhist monk with a gift for spiritual platitudes. As you might expect the Apple that falls from Bates and Campbell’s tree is unmistakably New Age.

The problem with music drama rooted in contemporary history is that we have a string of questions in our minds before the curtain rises, and so many questions are left unanswered. How did the hippie teenager making electronic toys in his garage with his best friend ‘Woz’ metamorphose into the Emperor of Silicon Valley? What on earth did Laurene see in Steve who had already abandoned a girlfriend when she fell pregnant? Sometimes the score banishes such questions, but Bates’s music never entirely rises to that challenge. There’s a particular sound in the orchestra for each character. For Jobs it’s that 1960s talisman the acoustic guitar which soon becomes a repetitive cliché. Elsewhere there are the chugging jazzy rhythms we associate with Minimalism, and scurrying strings punctuated by electronic samplings that sound like breaking wind. Kelly Markgraf does his best for Jobs, and the splendid Sasha Cooke is an appealing Laurene. Wei Wu as the Buddhist guru sings as deep down as all wise men do in music drama. And in the pit Michael Christie keeps the pot boiling, but it’s thin gruel.

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Christopher Cook