Known as the nation’s foremost label launched by an orchestra and devoted exclusively to new music, the Grammy Award-winning BMOP/sound today announced the world premiere recording of Tod Machover’s large-scale and highly acclaimed “robotic” opera, Death and the Powers, set to a libretto by U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. This SACD album represents the first time the music can be fully appreciated free of the constraints of a technologically complex live stage performance, as well as the first BMOP/sound recording made available in fully immersive Dolby Atmos through Apple Music. Led by conductor Gil Rose, the intrepid Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) performs with electronics from the MIT Media Lab and some of today’s top vocalists including renowned baritone James Maddalena (Met Opera, Houston Opera, San Francisco Opera).
Widely recognized as one of the most significant and innovative composers of our time and celebrated for inventing new technology for music, Machover merges man and machine – literally – in this one-act opera that has been hailed as a “must-see for anybody who cares about the exciting new techno-driven directions music theater is taking in the early 21st century” (Chicago Tribune). A finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, Death and the Powers was developed at the MIT Media Lab and premiered in 2010 at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo under the Patronage of Prince Albert II of Monaco. It was recorded in 2011 in Massachusetts following its American premiere in Boston, by BMOP and the American Repertory Theater.
Death and the Powers is a mature reappraisal of the temptations and dangers of artificial intelligence. According to Tod Machover, it is “about morality, physicality, and the potential (and limitations) of human connection through technological magic into a form where sounds and words, objects and actions, humans and machines all amplify each other in powerful and often unexpected ways.” It tells the story of Simon Powers, a rich and powerful businessman and inventor, who wishes to perpetuate his existence beyond the decay of his physical being. Using his vast resources, Powers “downloads” himself into his environment, turning every object in his surroundings—books, furniture, walls, etc.—into a living version of himself, called The System. His family, friends and business associates are left to figure out how this transformation impacts their relationship with him and their ability to move forward with their own lives and legacies.
The themes and concerns of Death and the Powers seem even more relevant and resonant than when the opera premiered a decade ago. “Simon Powers’s remote connection from within The System doesn’t seem so different from what our Zoom-life has become, filled with endless frustration but also surprising intimacy,” says Machover. “We have been constantly reminded during the pandemic of the brevity and fragility of life, and of the importance of living fully now, since there might not be the ‘more’ or the ‘forever’ that Simon Powers seeks.”
Machover’s music is more than up to the challenge posed by this powerful story. As Thomas May writes in the CD liner notes, “Machover harnesses the multiple opportunities opened up by the libretto for music “to carry on where the words stop short… a subtle balance between ambitious innovation and longstanding, tried-and-true operatic values.” Indeed, this CD provides an ideal opportunity to savor the richness, subtlety, variety and originality of Machover’s music for Death and the Powers, called – among many descriptions – “passionate” (Wall Street Journal), “compelling” (Boston Globe), “deeply serious” (Opera), and “sheer genius” (Boston Herald). And as David Patrick Stearns wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Death and the Powers doesn’t point the way to a new era of opera. It’s there. Now.”