ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Steve Jobs could convince his workers the sky was purple.
That buzzing inner energy could also freeze him into a cold tyrant. Empathetic and cruel, meditative and relentless, he led a binary life, a visionary who helped connect the world while he erected a firewall around his own emotions.
Capturing that mercurial personality takes much more than a guy sitting behind a computer screen. The most frequently performed composer of his generation, Mason Bates has penned a symphony of colliding musical worlds to express the contradictions and Christ-like charisma of the most revolutionary techie the world has ever known.
Co-written with librettist Mark Campbell, “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs”opens at the Santa Fe Opera on Saturday, July 22.
“He revolutionized communication,” Bates said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he is the composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. “And communication is what opera can really do. Every character can reveal his thoughts at the same time.”
Bates composed the score by knitting together traditional symphonic music and electronic sounds, giving a theme to each of his central characters. The composer will join the musicians in the pit playing two laptops, an electronic drum pad and a synthesizer.
“I tend to think of electronics as a natural step in the evolution of the orchestra,” he said.
An orphan who refused to acknowledge the existence of his first daughter until much later in his life, Jobs was on a lifelong search for inner peace, Bates said.
He’ll walk on stage carrying an acoustic guitar.
“I don’t think he played, but a lot of the (Apple) announcements for iTunes and devices included the guitar,” Bates said. “There’s nothing that conveys an artful, quicksilver sound like a finger-picked guitar. It can convey the restlessness that drove Jobs.”
Glitzy Apple sounds will trail behind the inventor.
“He was a Buddhist, and he certainly struggled with some of the basic aims of Buddhism,” the composer said.
The music will express that faith through the sounds of prayer bowls and gongs depicting Jobs’ spiritual adviser Kobun.
The opera opens in the Los Altos, Calif. garage where Jobs learned how to build things from his machinist father. The building virtually explodes.
“The walls fall apart and become projection panels that propel the piece,” Bates said.
The character’s wife, Laurene, is a pivotal grounding character.
“His wife says there are some things you can’t control; one is your daughter and the people you work with,” Bates said. “The other is cancer.”
Jobs died of pancreatic cancer in 2011.
“When he’s interacting with his wife, you hear her slow him down,” Bates said. “She’s like the ocean. She’s got the low strings playing these lush sounds.”
A regular visitor, Bates knew he wanted his opera to open in Santa Fe.
“It’s an incredible place,” he said. “There’s really nothing else like Santa Fe and its contribution to the world of opera.
“I’ve always thought of Santa Fe as the best place to launch. The pieces there get the most attention because everybody comes to Santa Fe.”
Bates will perform with the Del Sol String Quartet at 10:30 a.m. at Las Puertas, 1512 First NW, Albuquerque, and at 4 p.m. in the New Mexico History Museum, 113 Lincoln Ave., Santa Fe, today. Visit chatterabq.org or call the Santa Fe Opera at 800-280-4654, santafeopera.org.