Cancer didn’t kill “Steve Jobs.” Anne Midgette of The Washington Post did it with one bad opera review earlier this summer. Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times buried him shortly after in 16 quickly dispatched paragraphs, 12 of which could fairly be categorized as mud.
The Santa Fe Opera meant to make the tech mogul immortal with the musical biography it premiered July 22, or at least to resurrect him in the flesh-and-blood form of a baritone who could make audiences feel his vitality for years to come. The work, by hot-right-now composer Mason Bates and super librettist Mark Campbell, was deemed a smash before it even hit the stage, with so much advance hype that Santa Fe actually added an extra performance to its summer schedule. That never happens.
But then Midgette dropped into New Mexico for the premiere, leaving behind her a very public note that described the piece as “tedious,” “canned” and “more constructed than genuinely involving.” Woolfe only took issue with the singing, the scenery, the premise, the lyrics, the title, the tone and the music, which he described as “alternating modes of dogged propulsion and layer-cake grandiosity.” No opera should survive such a trashing by two of the country’s most-respected music critics.
The Santa Fe production, which continues through Aug. 25, is thrilling audiences that appreciate its energy, its modernity, its relevance, and the fact that it is only 90 minutes long. The crowds flocking to the open-air opera house are giddy before it starts and rapturous as it ends. I talked some of them before and after a performance last week, including several folks under 40, and all were grateful to have an opera that spoke directly to their own history — and incredulous that the thing could get such bad reviews.
At this point, the…