Composer Says Tesla's Life Makes For Electrifying Opera

Sep 27, 2017

Here's an idea that a lot of post-Hurricane Irma South Floridians can probably get behind – free, safe, non-polluting electricity for everybody.

That was actually one of the long-cherished dreams of 19th century inventor Nikola Tesla, a groundbreaker in the field of electricity.

Most Americans know something about Thomas Edison and his contribution to the electric age, but not as many are acquainted with Tesla's legacy. Or about how he was ultimately tormented by the thought that his inventions could one day negatively affect the planet.

But now an opera based on Tesla's life makes its world premiere this week at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach.

“Tesla” composer Carson Kievman admits he knew virtually nothing about the title character, a Serbo-Croatian immigrant, until a theater colleague suggested he research the inventor’s life.

"I think maybe Tesla was saying something. But it wasn't 'Kill the opera.' It was 'Tell the story. Please tell the story" - Carson Kievman

Kievman then discovered just how prolific Tesla was. For starters, he learned that Tesla created alternating current energy and won the “War of the Currents” against Edison's direct current to become the dominant electrical technology. He developed robotics, x-rays and even an early form of wireless communication.

“I thought, ‘This is going to make a very interesting and wild avante-garde opera.’  That was my first reaction,” says Kievman. “But as I learned more about him, my reaction became much more emotional because of what he had to deal with.”

Tesla’s heartache – in life and in the opera – was his realization of how much fossil fuel his invention would burn and the damage it would ultimately do to the earth. So he sold his patents, gave up his lavish lifestyle and set out to develop a form of safe, free, non-polluting electricity that could be drawn straight from the ionosphere.

But the millionaires and moguls Tesla originally worked with refused to back him and he died in obscurity.

Kievman says “Tesla” has been 31 years in the making and its composition was bookended by two hurricanes. In 1992, Kievman and his librettist were nearly finished with the script when Hurricane Andrew struck and left Kievman’s home in shambles. A little more than 25 years later, the opera was in final rehearsal for its world premiere in Miami Beach when Hurricane Irma hit.

Considering the continuing debate over possible links between  fossil fuel use and climate change (which many scientists believe leads to more and stronger hurricanes), Kievman thinks the connection of the two storms to his opera might be a message from beyond the grave.

“I think maybe Tesla was saying something,” says Kievman, with a laugh. “But it wasn’t ‘Kill the opera.’ It was ‘Tell the story. Please tell the story.’ "

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IF YOU GO:

World Premier of  “Tesla”
Presented by SoBe Arts
Thursday, Sept.28-Sunday, Oct. 1
Colony Theatre
1040 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach
Box Office: (800) 211-1414