A Note from PermaDeath Director Sam Helfrich

Technology is everywhere: in front of our eyes, at our fingertips, and all around us, delivering information, news, romance, friendship, and a massive amount of entertainment. Every day new advances in technology mean the world is moving faster and faster.

PermaDeath is an opera which simultaneously utilizes such enduringly low-tech tropes of classical music as unamplified human voices and regular old musical instruments along with cutting-edge entertainment technology in the form of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) while bridging those two extremes with an electronic soundscape and special effects. For a theater artist, PermaDeath provides an irresistible opportunity to investigate some of the greatest questions facing us in the world today: How do we maintain a connection to the most fundamental human emotions and desires in a world in which we are fully dependent on technology? Will technology deepen our connections to each other, or drive us into increasing isolation? In seeking alternative realities and parallel identities — through gaming and avatars, for example  — what might we discover about ourselves?

In this opera, Sonny is a young woman and professional gamer who finds herself unexpectedly facing progressive debility and early death. As a gamer, she is temporarily able to sublimate her fears into a championship avatar, the god Apollo, who represents all of the things — life force, strength, immortality — that elude Sonny in the real world. Through ongoing conversation with her avatar, Sonny rages against a world which seems to have betrayed her, and also finds a unique kind of comfort and reassurance.

Indeed, this is a very personal, human story, but also much more. A total of seven CGI characters, all rooted in Greek mythology, battle each other endlessly in iconic fights which incorporate a range of human emotions, from petty jealousy to desire, envy, and grief. Through individual gamers who adopt these avatars, we are cleverly introduced to a world of ordinary humans who seek alternative identities and parallel realities. As the battles rage, these men and women speak through their avatars perhaps to wonder about the end of “gods” and mythology in the new world order, or maybe just to fill an emptiness in their real lives. Who knows?

Perhaps PermaDeath will surprise seasoned devotees of opera with its unusual and insightful exploration of themes related to the pressing need to remain human in a dehumanizing world, but I’d like to think that it can also beguile and entertain an audience more acclimated to a fast-moving, hyper-stimulating world who might think opera is “slow,” or “old fashioned” or “hard to understand.” In any case, it is thrilling to work on an opera which challenges our notions of the art form and asks significant questions about the world today. Enjoy!

Related Reading

PermaDeath—Boston 2018