A trusty theater friend witnessed Einstein on the Beach at BAM in New York last year, and she told me it was not just one of the greatest theatrical experiences of her life, but one of the greatest experiences she had ever had, period. I have consistently heard that the 1976 opera by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson (with choreography by Lucinda Childs) was groundbreaking, catapulting the creators’ careers, but knowledge of Einstein’s arrival in L. A. on October 11 prompted a phone call to her. The original collaborators have resurrected their show for a world-wide tour with just a few stops in the states—BAM being one—and it arrives for only three performances courtesy of LA Opera. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion engagement will be the final chance to see this opera, and there are hardly any seats left. When else am I going to get a chance to see it? I wanted details.
It occurred to me that this was the first time I spoke with someone who actually saw it. She said, “It’s very bizarre and very fresh, very consuming and extraordinarily mystical and mesmerizing. It’s almost five hours with no plot, no characters and—get this—no intermission; but when it was over, I felt as though someone had awakened me from a beautiful dream. It’s one of those events in the theater that defies description but demands attendance.”
My intrigue was piqued by a long pause.
“What’s it about?” I asked.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that,” she laughed—and then sighed. “I don’t really know what it’s about. For an avant-garde work, it’s quite unpretentious. The whole thing is a phantasmagoria of Einstein-inspired dance, music and imagery in four acts, separated by entr’actes that Wilson calls “Knee Plays,” but there isn’t a main character. Einsteins are all over the place—even a violinist was outfitted like him. It seems to be inspired by the life and work of Einstein, but…” She stopped.
“I dunno. It’s like I want to talk about it, but somehow that’s impossible. You just have to see it.”
I promised I would, but immediately called another friend who saw it in Berkeley. He offered the same dreamy insight with few words: “Just promise me you’ll go.”
So I contacted LA Opera to see if they could elucidate. Here’s what they say: “You Decide What It Means. It’s a masterpiece of modernism; a non-linear, non-narrative operatic event. Everyone will walk away with a different interpretation. It’s visually stunning, musically mesmerizing, and breathtakingly choreographed. It will challenge the way you think, hear and see.” Both of my friends concurred that the stagecraft and lighting are astonishing.
Understandably confused, I wondered how to explain to Stage and Cinema readers about the 4 ½ hours length with no real intermission. LA Opera’s response: “Not to worry. Unlike other operas, Einstein on the Beach was created to allow for coming and going throughout the piece. Need to use the restroom? Please do whenever you need. Hungry? Patina restaurant will be serving special Einstein Relativity snacks and cocktails. There is even a Social Media Lounge on the 3rd floor, where free WiFi will be provided.
“Actually, it’s longer than 4 ½ hours when you consider that Pulitzer Prize-winning classical music critic Tim Page will give a free pre-performance lecture and Q&A prior to each performance. Also, Caltech presents the Einstein Paper Project, an installation of 12 large portraits of Albert Einstein created by the noted photographer Herman Landshoff, which will be showcased in the lobby. And pre-show warm ups with the cast begin 30 minutes prior to start time.”
OK, I can’t say I know much more about the show than when I began my queries, but I do know that the production at LA Opera will be the last time the three original creative greats will collaborate together on this historic and, according to my friends, unforgettable piece. This is also the first time Einstein on the Beach has been presented by a major opera company. After October 13, the show heads to Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, and then it’s over—sort of like an indescribable dream that will never happen again but will leave an indelible mark on your soul.
photos by Lucie Jansch and Lesley Leslie-Spinks
Einstein on the Beach
presented by LA Opera
in collaboration with the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA (CAP UCLA)
produced by Pomegranate Arts, Inc.
Friday, October 11, 2013, at 6:30pm
Saturday, October 12, at 6:30pm
Sunday, October 13, at 2pm
at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Want to know more? Get the opportunity to actually speak with the creative powerhouses behind Einstein on the Beach when CAP UCLA hosts a special “In Conversation” event with creators Robert Wilson, Lucinda Childs and Phillip Glass. It will be held at UCLA’s Royce Hall Saturday October 12, 2013 at 1 p.m.
for tickets, visit CAP UCLA