When I got an email from Utah Opera a few months ago, I was caught off guard by the title of an upcoming opera: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.
Wait, Steve Jobs? As in, Apple? Opera? One of these things is not like the other.
Set to show May 6 - 14 2023, this story is from the well-known and complicated life of Steve Jobs. We all have our notions of what his life was like, whether that's been influenced by books, movies, or media, and taking this story into the artform of opera is unexpectedly weird and wonderful.
The interesting thing about Jobs is that, although he was highly intelligent and died with a net worth over $10 billion dollars, the guy struggled with a lot of things. While I haven’t read his biography, I know there are a few big things that Jobs was known to have struggles with: college, love life, and fashion (ok, I threw that last one in, but please know I’m in full support of the life-uniform).
After a short stint at Reeds College in Oregon, Jobs had enough and dropped out, moving on to more important things–like apple orchards (he really did help in the orchards in Oregon) and creating a billion-dollar tech empire. From there, you know the basics. Jobs teamed up with childhood friend Steve Wozniak, they hatched Apple, yadda yadda yadda, the iPod is launched, the iPhone is launched, and by 2002 if you weren’t walking around with white cords hanging from your ears, you were lame lame lame. I’m going to go into a tangent now because I think it’s fascinating, if you’re here for the opera just skip this part.
When iPods were first released in 2001, those white cords were an immediate need for my highschool self. It wasn’t a want, it was blasted into the need category. We pined after those little beauties like Bruce Bogtrotter did after Trunchbull's chocolate cake. I had a friend that meticulously wrapped his black Sony headphones in white medical tape to mimic the Apple look. A kid in my neighborhood found a pair whose cord jack was broken, but he put the headphones in his ears and the broken end into his pocket and walked around like that. White cords equaled instant coolness for a 13 year old. I really think the decision to make those headphones white was, and is, one of the greatest and most simple design decisions ever.
"Telltale white earbuds indicate to passersby that the bearer ascribes to certain notions of coolness and style," evolutionary behavioral scientist Gad Saad wrote in Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences in 2011. The iPod user "engages willingly in some degree of conspicuous consumption, has the necessary resource control to afford a portable Apple device ... and presumably enjoys music."
Like I said, instant cool factor. And don’t even get me started on the Apple packaging, swooooon.
Ok moving on to the opera.
When I picture an opera, it involves heavily hair-pieced women in ornate dresses with extra rouged cheeks singing in Italian. Cliche, yes, but you know you were thinking the same thing. No part of my mind includes a thin guy in a black turtleneck, and the word “tech” is definitely not involved. So of course, I was immediately interested and scheduled an interview with the good people at Utah Opera.
“The idea of a contemporary figure in this venerable artform is certainly not the stereotype of what people think of opera,” says Christopher McBeth, Utah Opera Artistic Director. “It’s a story that highlights the struggle that we’re all going through, which is finding balance in our lives and in our work.” Although the story in this opera takes a lot of artistic and poetic liberties, it loosely tells the story of Jobs’ life and his struggles and triumphs with love, work, and navigating his complicated world.
Don’t let the word “opera” deter you because really it’s just a story set to music. Art, whether it’s an opera, a movie, a painting or a sculpture, speaks to us on a deeper level if we’re able to see a part of ourselves in the story, and in reality, Steve Jobs dealt with a lot of the same things you and I deal with. We’re surrounded by screens and technology, and most likely, you’re reading this on a device heavily influenced by Jobs, as over 50 percent of Americans are using iPhones. We also experience heartache, trouble with work, strained relationships, and health problems. Billionaires, they’re just like us.
The story happens to be about a tech-centered person, but The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs isn’t just an ode to Jobs, it’s a technological triumph in the opera world. Opera-buffs the world over revel in the classic artform with its deep-set tradition and “pure” sound. Opera singers belt it out in such a way that no microphone is needed, and the sound is untouched before it hits the human ear. While “purists” might balk, this particular opera is packed with audio-visual tech delights. 24 LCD flat screens take the stage to augment the emotions of the central character, pulsing, flashing, and going black at the point of the character’s breakdown. The orchestra is studded with electric and acoustic guitars, as well as a Mac computer, hooked to a speaker to give us those familiar digital sounds.
“Whether you’re new to opera or you’ve seen many, this one appeals to all,” says Christopher. So picture this: You come home from reading this insightful newsletter and pitch this to your kids “Hey guys, how would you like to go to an opera about Steve Jobs?” If your kids are anything like my four boys, the answer is immediately no. Steve who? Opera? Hard pass. But, mention a show with lights, screens, and Apple products, and they might be game. So is this a play to get the younger generation to the opera? It certainly doesn’t hurt.
Screen consumption is somewhat limited in my house–my 16-year-old will be the first to tell you that he was surely the only kid in the UNIVERSE with a “dumb-phone” and no internet capabilities until his junior year of high school. He got an iPhone, got a job, and his first purchase was a pair of AirPod Pro headphones. My 14-year-old, who has a Gabb phone with music capabilities, quickly followed suit and got himself some AirPods. Same cool factor here, just without the white cords hanging down getting caught on your arm and ripped violently out of your ears (I know you immediately felt this when you read it). So while opera might not be as “cool” to the younger generation, they still love and adore their Apple products, and a show with lights and sounds that are familiar to them might be a great segway into opera.
I must admit, while I’ve seen plenty of plays and a handful of shows on Broadway, I’ve never officially been to the opera, and this seems like the perfect intro. While I have a deep respect for the arts and the age-old traditions there, I know there’s room for modern twists, and I'm excited to see this one. There are even teasers to get you even more excited! Check out the preview for the Grammy-winning opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, composed by Mason Bates and libretto by Mark Campbell.
If you are interested, you can join me and the Silicon Slopes team on May 12 to see the opera and an exclusive after-party to meet the cast and to network. You can use code REVOLUTION at checkout for 20 percent off and to receive a ticket to the after-party; space for the after-party is limited, so act fast. We'll see you at the opera on May 12!