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Tod Machover: Death and the Powers

James Maddalena, Joélle Harvey, Patricia Risley, Hal Cazalet; Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose (BMOP)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
BMOP1802_Machover

Tod Machover
Death and the Powers
James Maddalena, Joélle Harvey, Patricia Risley, Hal Cazalet; Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose
BMOP/sound BMOP-1802   86:25 mins

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The idea that a billionaire might pour funds into a techno-pursuit of immortality seems even less like fiction now than in 2011, when Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers premiered Stateside. With a cast including robots and a cyborg, and a score combining orchestra with specially devised electronic ‘hyperinstruments’ to dazzling effect, the opera’s themes are nonetheless fundamentally familiar: as Simon Powers eschews corporeality to morph into The System, questions are raised about mortality, human connection and social responsibility.

Of course humans already have systems – including family. Protégé Nicholas facilitates Powers’s transformation and wife Evvy is literally seduced by the machine. But daughter Miranda worries about the morality of cheating death while abandoning ‘the poor, the children, the starving’. Positing a potentially bleak future, the story is framed as a human ritual from the ‘organic age’. It’s an intriguing conceit, depicted with passionate commitment by the singers and Boston Modern Orchestra Project under Gil Rose.

Machover and librettist Robert Pinsky ultimately leave judgements to us. But their alertness to danger underpins the project, as characters representing the UN and other organisations wryly assert the need for ‘something more than poetry’ if we are to resist such brave new worlds.

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Steph Power