Composer Mason Bates tells Moneyish why key moments of the late Apple and Pixar head’s story are on show at the Santa Fe Opera
It’s an operatic take on Thinking Different.
An 90-minute opera depicting the life and times of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has just opened in Santa Fe, N.M. “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” runs through the most significant events of his 56 years, from the garage where Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the most iconic of tech companies to the memorial service after the business legend died from respiratory arrest linked to pancreatic cancer in 2011.
“(R)evolution” is the brainchild of San Francisco-based composer Mason Bates, who says the response has been so warm that the Santa Fe Opera has added an extra show. He was drawn to bringing Jobs to life on the opera stage because of the impact that he’s had on the way we communicate today— especially with his late life invention of the iPhone. “He started as a countercultural hippie and ended up a mogul at the helm of the world’s most valuable company,” the 40-year-old part-time DJ tells Moneyish. “And he did it with devices that took our communications and put them in sleek beautiful boxes.”
Jobs astonishing life makes for good story fodder. Raised by adoptive parents, he led Apple and popularized the modern personal computer with the Macintosh before being kicked out of his company. In his wilderness years, he made a separate fortune with Pixar before returning to Apple in triumph. Jobs was also famously difficult to work with. “He had a daughter [he initially abandoned] and cancer, all things which didn’t fit into boxes,” says Bates. “At the heart, there’s this conflict between the minimalist devices and the tension and beautiful nature of life. Those contradictions are fascinating and the stuff of opera.”
“(R)evolution,” which cost around $2 million to make, wasn’t authorized by Apple or the Jobs estate. Still, Bates did his fair share of research. He poured through Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography, talked to the black turtleneck wearing billionaire’s former employees and even visited the garage that was ground zero for Apple.
The opera has received mixed-to-warm reviews, with the Financial Times noting that it had “ample substance,” though Zachary Woolfe of the New York Times wrote that the Jobs’ complex backstory was replaced with a “sappier, staler arc” in “(R)evolution.”
Trained at Juilliard, Bates was the Kennedy Center’s first ever composer-in-residence. He began working on the opera around the time of Jobs’ death, but nearly six years after his passing, Jobs still looms over popular and technological culture. Since then, Michael Fassbender has portrayed the Apple chief exec in a movie and numerous tomes have been written re-examining his life.
Jobs is relevant today “because we all carry him in our pocket,” says Bates, referencing the iPhone and other smartphones it inspired. “That’s the craziest thing— that we’re all carrying a piece of him. Whether you’ve been dumped by text or are Facetiming with someone three time zones away, this is something we all have to deal with.”
“(R)evolution” runs through August 25.
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