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Interacting With Machover Opera

February 11, 2014

<em>Death and the Powers</em>, design: Alex McDowell, image: Christian Robert de Massy and Vlad Bina In collaboration between Dallas Opera, Opera Parallèle, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers will be performed at noon on Feb. 16 at the Winspear Opera House, and simulcast/streamed to several locations, including the S.F. Conservatory,  and Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University. Admission is free, on a first come first serve basis.

Conducted by Nicole Paiement — artistic director of Opera Parallèle and on the Conservatory faculty as the Jean and Josette Deleage Distinguished Chair in New Music — the opera is directed by Diane Paulus, designed by Alex McDowell, and choreographed by Karole Armitage. The libretto is by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinksy, from a story by Pinsky and Randy Weiner. Here's the description of the work from the Dallas Opera:

Death and the Powers features an animatronic stage, a surround sound system with hundreds of speakers, nine semi-autonomous singing robots and an over-sized, specially designed-and-constructed chandelier that emulates the human voice and responds to physical touch.

The leading character is Simon Powers, a successful and powerful business man, who wishes to perpetuate his existence beyond the decay of his natural being. Nearing the end of his life, Powers seizes his one chance for immortality by downloading his consciousness into his environment, creating a living version of his mind and spirit, called "The System."

Simon [baritone Robert Orth] exits the stage and enters a soundproof booth in the orchestra pit, where sensors are attached to his body. These sensors translate his voice, breath, and physical gestures to the chandelier and a trio of three-sided, robotic walls, each weighing two tons. The System comes to life with sound, light and movement reflecting Simon's thoughts, feelings, memories and desires as he attempts to entice his loved ones to join him in his altered state of existence.

The event offers enhanced streaming and interactive moments through a specially designed, downloadable app, called "Powers Live." Created by Machover and the MIT Media Lab, "Powers Live" is designed to work on any smartphone or tablet supporting Apple iOS 6 and 7 and Android 4.0 and higher. During choreographed segments throughout the opera, remote audiences will receive additional audio, video, and multimedia content flashed to their mobile devices.

The added content will allow audience members the ability to experience virtually the main character’s thoughts and bring the sights and sounds of the live performance in Dallas "within reach." Additionally, HD cameras placed throughout the set and upon various electronic props will provide a "robot’s eye-view" and a more in-depth perception of the opera. So says the announcement.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].