New ‘Robot Opera’ Explores Science Fiction Themes, Opera Of The Future

This is a preview of Death and the Powers, a new opera by Tod Machover with his Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Death and the Powers is a one-act, full evening work which tells the story of Simon Powers, a businessman and inventor, who wishes to perpetuate his existence beyond the decay of his physical being.

Reaching the end of his life, Powers faces the question of his legacy: When I die, what remains? What will I leave behind? What can I control? What can I perpetuate?

Powers devises a way to ‘download’ himself into his environment. This transformation turns every object in his surroundings-such as his books, furniture and walls-into a collective, living version of himself, called The System. His family, friends and business associates are left not only to figure out if this new ‘environment’ is, in fact, a true embodiment of Powers, but how this transformation impacts their relationship with him and their ability to move forward with their own lives and legacies.

This opera explores themes of mortality and legacy, and what we leave behind of ourselves for the world and our loved ones.

Death and the Powers introduces specially-designed technology and an animated set-including a chorus of robots and a musical chandelier.

The stage represents Simon’s house, but this environment gradually reveals itself to be the vast, interconnected, intelligent ‘System’ of Powers’ continuing presence. As the opera progresses, the set ‘comes alive’ with Simon’s thoughts, feelings, memories and desires. A new technique called Disembodied Performance uses innovative sensors and analysis software to translate star James Maddalena’s conscious and unconscious sounds and gestures into the behavior of the set. In this way, The System reflects Simon Powers’ transformed presence even after his physical body is no longer visible to the audience.

In addition to the animatronic set, the opera employs several other inventions developed especially for the production: a chorus of ‘Operabots’ which narrate and react to the story; Mei-Mei Bots, pieces of furniture which morph and move; and a musical Chandelier, comprised of long strings which resonate via both remotely actuated electromagnets and by an on-stage performer plucking and dampening the strings.

Death and the Powers will receive its world premiere September 24, 2010 at l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo; its United States premiere will be March 18, 2011 with Harvard’s American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) and Opera Boston; and its Midwest premiere April 2, 2011 at Chicago Opera Theater.

See the Death and the Powers site for more information.

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