January 21st, 2012

old gm building

einstein on the beach

Last night I attended a performance of Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach. I was going to buy my ticket from Joe and Matt, but they very generously declared it to be a late birthday present. This is the first production of the "opera" in twenty years, and last night was the first performance. The producers claim that the shows in Ann Arbor are "previews" and that the "real" premiere will be in Monpellier, France in March. That is bullshit--I hereby declare last night's performance to be the premiere!

I have been listening to this piece since my adolescence, and finally seeing it in person is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. But there were a couple of disappointments. The A-G-C bassline that begins the opera is supposed to repeat while the audience is being seated, but Knee Play 1 was just *ending* as we entered the auditorium. I was really bummed out to miss it.

The other disappointment was the fucking asshole in the back who would NOT SHUT UP. He was talking on and off throughout the entire performance. Our glaring at him didn't work, and neither did my "shooshing" of him. Oh, and by the way, it turns out that the man was Robert Wilson. I shooshed Robert Fucking Wilson. As in:

He is the co-creator of the opera. It turns out he was giving notes on the performance, according to Matt, who was sitting closer and could actually make out what he was saying. I didn't recognize him until he was called on stage with Philip Glass. Wilson also collaborated with Philip Glass on the CIVIL warS and with Tom Waits on The Black Rider. And he is as crazy as a craphouse rat. I still think he's a dick for talking the whole time. Dress rehearsals are dress rehearsals, and performances are performances. You don't get to charge a lot of money for tickets and fill a house three nights in a row and dismiss them as "previews" that you can talk over.

* * * * *

Einstein on the Beach is an opera only by the most bare, abstract definition--there is action on a stage while music is performed in an orchestra pit. It is 1970s postmodernism at its most decadent. The five-hour work is divided into four acts but is performed without intermission. Audience members are allowed to come and go as they please, and I thought I would have to take at least one break--but I did not feel the need to leave my seat at any time. There is no story to the opera, only recurring, abstract images and the recitation of poetry written by an autistic fourteen-year-old. For much of the opera, a violinist dressed up as Einstein plays next to the other musicians.

The YouTube video below contains Joe's remix "Night Train", one of my favorite scenes in the opera. The images for this video were taken by Joe on an Amtrak trip to Milwaukee a few years ago.

I have now seen all of the operas that comprise Philip Glass' trilogy of "portrait" operas. I've seen them all with Joe, and in reverse order. In the summer of 2000 we drove to Chicago with Beth and Sarah to see Akhnaten, about the pharaoh of the same name. A few weeks ago we saw an HD simulcast of Satyagraha (about Mahatma Gandhi) in a movie theater in Livonia. Since the performance was technically live, and since the ticket cost $22, I'm counting it as an opera I've actually seen.