We will get to Steve Jobs in a moment. First we must discuss Joseph Schumpeter.
During the middle of the Second World War, Schumpeter, a great Austrian-born economist who for a period taught at Harvard, argued that the hero of capitalism, the entrepreneur, was doomed. He saw the only business figure worthy of myth-making being displaced (if not devoured) by managers, boardrooms, and shareholders. Weirdly, he saw this as part of the rise of socialism. The hero of capitalism would be smothered by the machine of corporate governance.
Of course, he was wrong. The myth of the heroic entrepreneur has persisted. It is today represented by figures like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. But in our era, no other entrepreneur captured the public's imagination more than the late Steve Jobs. He started Apple with a friend in his parents' garage. Later, he was thrown out of the corporation. Later still, he returned to Apple and, after making it one of the greatest corporations of our times, died at the relatively young age of 56.
Now think about this. Do you know who started Pizza Hut? Or NBC? Or General Motors? Or Tyson Foods? Do you really know the story of these huge corporations? Can you ever imagine watching an opera about the person who founded them? Tickets for such a show would not move at all.
But Steve Jobs? Yes. These tickets are going to be hot. And it is Jobs that is the key to the operatic power of his story. An opera about Bill Gates would send people to sleep. He got a computer as a kid. He started a company. He rose to the top. He became a philanthropist. He is likely to die an old man. Who wants to watch that?
But Jobs! He was a Schumpeterian hero in every sense. With Gates, we get the sense that he was only setting up a great mousetrap for customers. With Jobs, the public is convinced he was doing something for the progress of humanity.
And it's not just about being an "agent of innovation." It's about his aura (Gates has no aura). Even people who, like me, hate anything that makes capitalism appear to be anything but ugly can't avoid the fact that Jobs had about him the air of an exceptional person.
There have been books and films made about him, but I believe that the proper medium for this type of life is opera. It will be interesting to see what The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs looks and sounds like in Seattle Opera's production. It got its start in 2017 in Santa Fe, and it has been to a few other cities besides, but it has always been a coproduction with Seattle Opera, and finally we get to see it.
With music by Mason Bates and a libretto by Mark Campbell, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs understands that no other medium than opera is appropriate to the life and times of a man many considered to be the last hero of capitalism.