Critic’s Pick: ‘Death and the Powers’ melds opera and apps at Hammer

Music Critic

Attending the opera was once straighforward. Buy a ticket and go. But that was before the information age. A little more can be involved these days.

The latest wrinkle is what is being called the world’s first interactive live stream of an opera, which will occur Sunday at the Hammer Museum. It’s Tod Machover’s “robot opera” (the press release’s quotes, not mine), “Death and the Powers.” The simulcast will be of a live Dallas Opera performance.

Tickets are free and you can get them at the Hammer website. You will also get instructions. You will also be required to violate the first rule of opera-going etiquette by turning on your smartphone or, better still, super-annoying tablet. Make sure it is charged. The opera lasts 90 minutes.

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Before you go, download the Powers Live App from either iTunes or Google Play and install it. The App will try to sucker you into registering through Facebook. You can skip that, but it will still have your email and be able to keep an eye on you while you keep an eye on the opera. That’s the new world.


Here’s what else you might want to know. Machover, who heads the Opera of the Future group at MIT’s futuristic Media Lab, is a unique figure in music and opera. He’s experimented with ways to expand the range and sonic possibilities of conventional instruments and worked with highly unconventional ones too, including utterly cool new fangled instruments imaginable.

He’s written operas with literary sources as varied as Tolstoy, Philip K. Dick and your brain. His musical style is vast and vastly interesting, mixing some pop elements with sophisticated structural and computational ones.

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“Death and the Powers” has much of the above. Simon Powers is a one-percenter wants to live forever by downloading his consciousness into the System. Man and machine may merge, but immortality doesn’t do wonders for your sex life. This opera asks big questions about consciousness.

And then there is death and the Powers. By a curious coincidence Richard Powers’ new novel, “Orfeo,’ also asks big questions. In it an aging composer seeks the biometrics of music, runs afoul of national security and seeks immortality through musical structure. Something is in the air.


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