It’s been 2 days since I saw Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers at Chicago Opera Theater, and I’m still thinking about it, even thoroughly reading the production notes from the supersized production team. Opera has a tradition of engaging artists from various disciplines, but Death goes over the top, bringing in engineers, roboticists, video programmers, poet laureates, and even a Hollywood production designer.
You have to see it to believe it. And you have to see it. Believe it.
The result is a richly dense work of art in which it is easy to be consumed, absorbed into the system, the form mimicking the content. And yet, at the very core, behind the façade of technology, there is something distinctly human.
Often times, opera asks big questions but steers clear of the big-big questions: big questions like love and death rather than big-big questions of mortality itself. Machover says the plot grew out of his interest in the aging process and the desire to leave something behind, a legacy. Every artist gives a little bit of themselves to future generations; glimpses of their personality can be found in every note, word, or brush stroke. But what if you could preserve your personality in its entirety?
Such is what Simon Powers does in Death and the Powers. As such he has power over death and such.
He becomes the Wizard of his own Oz, consumed by 3 3-ton towers of light, a sort of supercomputer of his embedded personality.
In the production, the video walls are controlled by sensors attached to the singer playing Simon: James Maddalena. You may have seen Maddalena in Nixon in China; he originated the role of Nixon and recently reprised it at the Met. His voice has both the richness and frailty that comes with age, embodying the ailing Powers as he seeks to transcend matter.
What is the matter with life? What is life without matter?
Simon transcends matter, becoming pure mind in the machine. Is it still him or is it a big trick? And should we follow him off the cliff into the void?
Death and the Powers takes us off that cliff and, while our belief is suspended in midair, asks these big-big questions. Do we fall back to earth or fly? The question is the question; it’s a matter of matter.
I might even try to go see it again.
Death and the Powers at Chicago Opera Theater
April 6, 8 at 7:30pm
April 10 at 3pm