Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant

Music  and Instrumentation

The music of Death and the Powers will represent a bold step forward towards a new kind of opera. Innovative disembodied performance techniques will be designed especially for this work, especially for Simon whose performance will mostly take place off stage. Miranda (soprano), Evvy (mezzo soprano), and Nicholas (tenor) will sing in traditional fashion on stage, sometimes amplified, sometimes not. Simon (bass-baritone, with an unusually extended range and exceptional acting ability), though physically offstage much of the opera, will always have his presence felt on stage by communicating directly through The System. His “interludes” allow the audience to glimpse Simon’s changing inner state, and provide dramatic musical propulsion and musical continuity for the whole opera. The vocal music will range from the lyrical, expressive singing of members of the Powers family to the “voice” of Simon Powers—careening between speech and song, memory and immediacy, breath and bravura—that is at once expiring and transcendent. The instrumentation for the opera calls for a small ensemble (ca.10 players: 5 strings, 3 winds, 1 percussion, 1 keyboard) located in the pit. Additionally, the opera will showcase the first-ever use of sonic animatronics (“sonitronics”), or physical, sculptural elements, such as a robotic “Chandelier” which is both a beautiful, compelling object as well as a subtle, resonant musical instrument. Its string-like surfaces are vibrated via electromagnets by a musician remotely while at the same time being plucked, strummed and damped directly by an onstage performer.

The range of expressivity will be wide, from the numerous fragments interjected and juxtaposed by The System, to the contrasting styles of each family member. Although much of the music of the opera will be partially “electrified,” special sound projection techniques will be used so that everything will have a lovely, shapely, three-dimensional quality, capable both of filling the entire theater with viscous, enveloping waves and also of whispering ever-so-delicately into the ear of every audience member.