Life changing. That’s the best way to begin.
On September 15, 2012 Kelly and Brian and I attended the second showing of Einstein as a part of the ‘Next Wave’ festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The only thing the three of us knew collectively was that we were about to see an opera that lasted 4 1/2 hours with no interruption. Seemed a bit daunting at the time but with open minds we arrived at BAM around 6:30 for the 7 performance.
As we sat down to our front row seats in the balcony one could hear the three notes that open the show. Sure enough, although there was glacial movement as individual cast members made their way onstage, the show had actually begun.
Einstein plays with the notions of time and space to such a fine degree that those 4 1/2 hours certainly did not feel like 4 1/2 hours.
As (Director) Robert Wilson describes, the opera focuses on the three ways of measuring space. Portraits, Still Lifes and Landscapes.
His ‘Knee Plays’ represent Portraits. The Train, Trials and Building are his Still lifes and the two dance sequences, Landscapes. Sitting in the balcony gave us the chance to see each of these ways as they were intended. Had we sat closer the opera would have been seen in a different light. In fact, we joined BAM as a member just so we could purchase our tickets before they went on sale to the public and I’m so glad we did.
Einstein is not a literal biography or representation of his life, rather, it references events from his life and gives the basic framework to then create the piece. As composer Philip Glass said, “it could have been Chaplin or Hitler (two figures he and Wilson discussed) but we settled on Einstein.”
For its “meaning” I will quote Elisabeth Vincentelli, the arts critic for the NY Post who wrote, for me, the best review of the piece I’ve read:
There’s nothing to understand in “Einstein on the Beach,” nothing to “get.”
And as the revival of this 1976 masterpiece shows, that’s OK. As conceived by composer Philip Glass, director Robert Wilson and choreographer Lucinda Childs, this is opera as massive head trip. You just give in to it, for 4 1/2 uninterrupted hours.
Nominally inspired by the frizzy-haired genius, “Einstein” is no soup-to-nuts biography. Don’t expect a linear plot or a physicist belting arias about how everything’s relative. There isn’t a beach, either, beyond a conch shell in the foreground.
It’s amazing to me how many of my creative friends, be they artists, museum people, theater people (from Brian), hadn’t heard of Einstein although it had shattered the very concept of opera when Wilson, using his own money, staged it for two performances at the Met in NY in 1976.
It is a work that has to be experienced. There is no amount of study or even listening to the soundtrack that comes near to the feeling that one had just seen something very, very profound. It was a sentiment the three of us shared as we left the theater dazed.
One of the true highlights of seeing this particular performance was learning that it is the last time its principal creators, Wilson, Glass and choreographer Lucinda Childs will be directly involved with it. The other was when the three of them joined the cast for the curtain call.
Over two weeks later and I’m still just as obsessed with it as I was when I left BAM. It, simply, has altered the very way I look at art and the creative expression.
I truly consider myself very lucky and privileged to have seen it as do Kelly and Brian.