As a composer who makes his home in the Bay Area, Mason Bates has ample opportunity to observe the technology community on a daily basis.
"They are very creative people," the composer, 38, said. "I thought there could be a way to write something about a creative technologist who would be the focus of a story. And Steve Jobs touches on the creative, technological and human side of things."
The complicated personal and professional lives of the late Apple co-founder will be the subject of Bates' new opera, "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs," which will have its world premiere in 2017 at Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, the company announced Wednesday.
It will be the latest work in what appears to be a cottage industry springing up around the late Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who died in 2011 at 56 after a fight with pancreatic cancer. "Steve Jobs," the highly anticipated movie starring Michael Fassbender and written by Aaron Sorkin, will open in the U.S. in October. It follows the 2013 movie "Jobs," starring Ashton Kutcher, which was critically panned. Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, released in 2011 shortly after the tech guru's death, became a top seller.
The Jobs opera is believed to be the first attempt to set the man's life to music.
"Jobs' story was attractive because it has a lot of possibilities for new sounds in an opera house," Bates said.
"There's this need to have some kind of electronic element because the subject is about the man who changed the world of technology. But there are things you can also do for acoustic instrument like an acoustic guitar — the perpetual motion of string picking is a good way to conjure his personality."
The opera will offer a nonlinear exploration of Jobs' life, with an emphasis on his relationships with his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, as well as his father, Paul. It also will delve into the touchy area of Jobs' first daughter, whom he initially disavowed.
Bates said the piece will address issues of abandonment for Jobs, who was put up for adoption by his birth parents. He said the opera isn't based on a book or other preexisting material, and it was researched using public information.
The opera will have a workshop in September in Northern California, but the event will be closed to the public. The composer said that the libretto, by Mark Campbell, a 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for the World War I opera "Silent Night," is completed and that Bates is writing the music.
Santa Fe Opera has built a reputation for showcasing new works, including the recent "Cold Mountain," composed by Jennifer Higdon and based on the bestseller by Charles Frazier. The company also has presented Thomas Ades' "The Tempest" and Tan Dun's "Tea: A Mirror of Soul."
Charles MacKay, the company's general director, said in the announcement that the Jobs opera is a "journey into the life and legacy of a distinctly American figure."
Bates has written for orchestra and voice while also devoting a significant portion of his career to exploring the digital sphere, working as a DJ and composing for nontraditional devices.
His 2012 piece "Alternative Energy," which toured California, combines electronic and orchestral soundscapes to take listeners on a time-hopping journey through modern energy production.
No dates or casting for "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" have been announced. The production will be staged by director Kevin Newbury.