NEW YORK, NY.-
In 1976 composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson redefined opera with the debut in Avignon, France, of Einstein on the Beach. The nearly five-hour, non-narrative work broke a host of operatic conventions and would become the most celebrated of the many collaborations between these two giants of the musical and theatrical stage.
Beginning today, The Morgan Library & Museum
exhibits for the first time Glasss autograph score for Einstein on the Beach as well as Wilsons production storyboards totaling more than one hundred designs. It is the first time the score has been exhibited and the first time it has been united with Wilsons work since the opera premiered more than thirty-five years ago. Robert Wilson/Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach will run through November 4.
The exhibition also includes archival film of the premieres in Brussels and Paris, as well as an excerpt from a New York rehearsal. In addition, Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera, a documentary about the 1984 restaging of the production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, will be screened throughout the run of the exhibition in the Morgans Gilder Lehrman Hall. Combining clips and interviews with Wilson and Glass, the film offers a rare look at their creative process and collaborative working method.
Few works of modernist opera have left as deep an imprint as Einstein on Beach, said William M. Griswold, director of The Morgan Library & Museum. Revolutionary in its music and stagecraft, the work launched one of the most successful artistic collaborations of the late twentieth century. It is riveting to see the juxtaposition of the storyboard designs and original score as Wilson and Glass strove to blend their extraordinary talents to create a milestone in operatic history.
Einstein on the Beach
Created as a metaphoric the most celebrated genius of the twentieth century, Einstein on the Beach debuted at the Avignon Festival on July 25, 1976. Breaking with tradition, Glass composed the work for the synthesizers and woodwinds of the Philip Glass Ensemble in addition to voices and solo violin, instead of the traditional orchestral arrangement. Abstract dance sequences, choreographed by Lucinda Childs and Andrew de Groat, were juxtaposed against a sequence of large, recurring images projected on a screen at the back of the stage. The operas four acts were framed and connected with a series of short scenes or knee plays. Rather than the conventional intermission, the audience was free to enter and exit throughout the almost five-hour performance.
The sung portions of the opera use number sequences and solfège syllables (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la,); the spoken sections feature texts by Christopher Knowles, Ms. Childs, and actor Samuel M. Johnson. Contemporary events and notable people of the 1970s are referenced in various scenesfrom the famous trial of heiress-turned-revolutionary Patty Hearst to the Beatles and pop singer David Cassidy.
Although Einstein on the Beach is essentially plotless, the climactic scene clearly depicts nuclear holocaust Glass recalled that, as a child, Albert Einstein had been a hero. Growing up just after World War II, he said, it was impossible not to know who he was. The emphatic, if catastrophic, beginnings of the nuclear age had made atomic energy the most widely discussed issue of the day.
Visitors to the exhibition will enter a gallery awash in blue light. The archival footage on view was selected from the Robert Wilson Audio/Visual Collection at the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Einstein on the Beach was the first in Glass's portrait trilogy, followed by Satyagraha (1980), in which the composer turned his attention to Gandhi, and Akhnaten (1984 based on the life of the Egyptian pharaoh. Currently, a new production of Einstein on Beach is making a yearlong international to in honor of Glasss 75th anniversary year.