The Revolution of Steve Jobs by the Santa Fe Opera

In 2015, the Santa Fe Opera announced that it had commissioned an opera based on a critical look at the life of Steve Jobs called “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.” Two years later, in 2017, “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” made its highly-anticipated world debut at the Santa Fe Opera in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This article takes a closer look at the production and includes some great behind-the-scenes videos.

Why Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs (Steven Paul Jobs) is recognized as a major visionary in the computer and tech industry. He was the co-founder, CEO, and Chairman of Apple Inc. Jobs also funded the spin-off of Computer Graphics Lab (part of George Lucas’ LucasFilm) into an independent company that was renamed Pixar (Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc, Finding Dori, The Incredibles, UP, etc.)

Steve Jobs was a tech innovator and visionary who lived from 1955-2011. He’s the reason Apple and Pixar exist.

The idea to turn the life of Steve Jobs into an opera came from American composer Mason Bates. In a discussion with Goggenheim Works & Process, Bates says:
 
“I live in the Bay Area in San Francisco and I’ve noticed there are a lot of creative people that aren’t traditional creative technologists. In Opera there are these stories… like Death in Venice by Benjamin Britten or Tales of Hoffmann by Offenbach about creative people and I thought wouldn’t it be interesting if we had an opera about a modern-day creative person. Steve Jobs has a fascinating life and it’s uniquely suited to the Opera House because he changed the way we communicate and communication is a great topic for a medium that can surround every character with their own sound world. In this opera, everyone has their own sound world.”

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

Commissioned by the world-renowned Santa Fe Opera, in collaboration with Seattle Opera and San Francisco Opera, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs is described as taking place “at a moment in Jobs’ life when he must face his own mortality and circles back to the events and people in his past that shaped and inspired him: his father Paul, Zen Buddhism, his relationship with a woman whose child he initially disowned, his quick rise and fall as a mogul, and – most importantly – his wife Laurene, who showed him the power of love and connection.”

Neither Apple nor the Steve Jobs Estate endorsed this opera version of the Steve Jobs story, so the producers avoided product (i.e. “iPhone”) and company (i.e. “Apple”) names. But it also gave them more freedom to explore some of the more controversial parts of Jobs’ life along with his outstanding visions.
 
Bates – who composed The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (Libretto by Mark Campbell) was excited when the Santa Fe Opera began production.

“Santa Fe Opera’s impact on the creation and dissemination of new opera is simply astonishing, and I’ve been so thankful to visit several times over the past ten years,” said Bates. “The superb productions of works new and old, combined with the stunning setting, have made it an essential pilgrimage for me. I’m honored to bring the story of Steve Jobs to this wonderful house and look forward to many more visits in the course of its creation.”
Building up to its premiere, Santa Fe Opera, in a concise synopsis, described the opera as this:

“The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs seeks to capture the buzzing creative realm of Silicon Valley with a kinetic electro-acoustic score, lush vocal writing, a compelling non-linear narrative, and a production as innovative as the man himself.”
A great group of cast and crew was assembled for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, including:

Mason Bates, composer
Mark Campbell, librettist
Michael Christie, conductor
Kevin Newbury, director
Edward Parks, “Steve Jobs”
Garrett Sorenson, “Steve Wozniak”
Sasha Cooke, “Laurene”
When tickets went on sale, the Santa Fe Opera released the following video teaser:
 
That was followed up by this trailer when The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs opened:

High Demand for Steve Jobs Opera

When The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs premiered in 2017 at the Santa Fe Opera, it became one of the top-selling operas in the company’s history. Demand was so strong that an extra performance had to be added before the first performance had even taken place!

It’s not every day that a 20th-century visionary is featured in a major opera production. But Steve Jobs, who passed away on October 5, 2011, was well beyond his time. The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs opera explores a bit of that vision in its own visionary form, which includes personal conflicts as well as victories. And, because of that, interest soared with all the original six performances selling out and a seventh being added.

The Revolution of Steve Jobs Reviews

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs was unique in that it was taking the life of a modern-day tech mogul and turning it into an Opera – a combination that is rare to see. When it premiered in 2017, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs pretty much well received by the media:

“At the second performance Wednesday in Santa Fe’s glorious outdoor opera house… RSJ (Revolution of Steve Jobs) was warmly received… I found it a winning opera.” ~ Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

“Exhilarating, moving, shocking, and enlightening.” ~ Jason Victor Serinus, San Francisco Classical Voice.

“Some of the best singing of the evening came from American tenor Garrett Sorenson as Steve Wozniak, billed sentimentally as “Woz.” Sorenson’s show-stopping moment came in Scene 13, in which he quits the company in a passionate rage.” ~ Arya Roshanian, Opera Wire

“Like all the finest operas, it is animated by a stimulating plot, it is brimful with compelling music, and — not less important — it has an ample heart.” ~ James M. Keller, Santa Fe New Mexican.
Audiences also seemed to enjoy the production as pointed out by Ray Mark Rinaldi in a Denver Post article:

“The crowds flocking to the open-air opera house are giddy before it starts and rapturous as it ends. I talked some of them before and after a performance, last week, including several folks under 40, and all were grateful to have an opera that spoke directly to their own history…”
Even reviewers who didn’t care for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs couldn’t help but notice the excitement of the audience. Take, for example, Washington Post reviewer Anne Midgette who said:

“After hearing the advance buzz and the rapturous reception on opening night, I realize I am not representing the conventional wisdom about this opera. I love hearing an audience excited, and I would love it if that were a sign that this work, a co-production with the Seattle Opera and the San Francisco Opera, has legs. I just wish I could have shared in the excitement.”
Here’s a look at the Overture and part of the first scene of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs from the Santa Fe Opera:

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs Nabs Four Grammy Award Nominations

In addition to the praise garnished from critics and audiences, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs was bestowed with four Grammy nominations as follows:

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs – Mark Donahue & Dirk Sobotka, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edward Parks, Jessica E. Jones & The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)
PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL
ELIZABETH OSTROW (The (R)evolution Of Steve Jobs)
BEST OPERA RECORDING
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs – Michael Christie, conductor; Sasha Cooke, Jessica E. Jones, Edward Parks, Garrett Sorenson & Wei Wu; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)
BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs – Mason Bates, composer; Mark Campbell, librettist (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edward Parks, Jessica E. Jones & The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)
Out of the four, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs won one – Best Opera Recording. Best Opera Recording has been a Grammy Award category since 1961.

The Making of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

Perhaps the best way to learn more about the making of this modern opera is to hear directly from those responsible for it. Here is a video on The Making of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.

The Future

As of this writing (2020), The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs has been performed at The Santa Fe Opera, Jacobs School of Music, and the Seattle Opera. It was scheduled to be performed in 2020 at the San Francisco Opera but was cancelled/postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is scheduled to be performed at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City in 2021.

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