Death and the Powers: Redefining Opera

Paula Aguilera

Death and the Powers is a groundbreaking opera that brings a variety of technological, conceptual, and aesthetic innovations to the theatrical world. It is a one-act, full-evening work that tells the story of Simon Powers, a successful and powerful businessman and inventor, reaching the end of his life and facing the question of his legacy. He is now conducting his final experiment, passing from one form of existence to another in an effort to project himself into the future. Simon Powers is himself now a System. His family, friends, and associates must decide what this means, whether or not he is actually alive, how it affects them, and whether to follow.

Death and the Powers was composed by Tod Machover and developed at the MIT Media Lab along with Diane Paulus (director) and Alex McDowell (production designer). The opera uses the techniques of tomorrow to address age-old human concerns of life and legacy. The unique performance environment, including autonomous robots, expressive scenery, new Hyperinstruments, and human actors, blurs the line between animate and inanimate. The opera premiered in Monte Carlo in Fall 2010, with additional performances in Boston and Chicago in 2011 and a new production with a global, interactive simulcast in Dallas in February 2014. The DVD of the Dallas performance of Powers was released in April 2015.