1st Edition

Einstein on the Beach: Opera beyond Drama

Edited By Jelena Novak, John Richardson Copyright 2020
    350 Pages 37 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    350 Pages 37 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s most celebrated collaboration, the landmark opera Einstein on the Beach, had its premiere at the Avignon Festival in 1976. During its initial European tour, Metropolitan Opera premiere, and revivals in 1984 and 1992, Einstein provoked opposed reactions from both audiences and critics. Today, Einstein is well on the way itself to becoming a canonized avant-garde work, and it is widely acknowledged as a profoundly significant moment in the history of opera or musical theater. Einstein created waves that for many years crashed against the shores of traditional thinking concerning the nature and creative potential of audiovisual expression. Reaching beyond opera, its influence was felt in audiovisual culture in general: in contemporary avant-garde music, performance art, avant-garde cinema, popular film, popular music, advertising, dance, theater, and many other expressive, commercial, and cultural spheres. Inspired by the 2012–2015 series of performances that re-contextualized this unique work as part of the present-day nexus of theoretical, political, and social concerns, the editors and contributors of this book take these new performances as a pretext for far-reaching interdisciplinary reflection and dialogue. Essays range from those that focus on the human scale and agencies involved in productions to the mechanical and post-human character of the opera’s expressive substance. A further valuable dimension is the inclusion of material taken from several recent interviews with creative collaborators Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, and Lucinda Childs, each of these sections comprising knee plays, or short intermezzo sections resembling those found in the opera Einstein on the Beach itself. The book additionally features a foreword written by the influential musicologist and cultural theorist Susan McClary and an interview with film and theater luminary Peter Greenaway, as well as a short chapter of reminiscences written by the singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega.


    List of figures viii

    List of music examples x

    Series editor preface xi

    Foreword: music and culture in the wake of Einstein xiii

    Contributors xvii

    Acknowledgements xxiii

    Introduction xxv


    Knee chapter 1

    Paying attention to Einstein: Philip Glass interviewed by John Richardson 1

    PART 1

    Einstein on the shores of culture 13

    1 Einstein on the radio 15


    2 Sous les pavés, la plage 49


    3 Einstein on the Beach in Belgrade: a critical testimony 66


    Knee chapter 2

    Einstein on the Beach is not radical, it is classic: Robert Wilson interviewed by Bojan Djordjev 79

    PART 2

    From repetition to representation 87

    4 Intuition and algorithm in Einstein on the Beach 89


    5 “Only pictures to hear”: reading Einstein on the Beach through experimental theater 106


    6 Creating beauty in chaos: Robert Wilson’s visual authorship in Einstein on the Beach 125


    Knee chapter 3

    Stay out of the way of Bob Wilson when he dances: Lucinda Childs interviewed by Jelena Novak 141

    PART 3

    Beyond drama: surfaces and agencies of performance 149

    7 Heavenly bodies: the integral role of dance in Einstein on the Beach 151


    8 Anonymous voice, sound, indifference 174


    Knee chapter 4

    Artists recall and respond 195

    Suzanne Vega, Under the influence – Philip Glass 195

    Two Finnish composers reminisce: Juhani Nuorvala, Petri Kuljuntausta 198

    Tom Johnson, Rehearsing Einstein on the Beach 203

    Two steps forwards but three steps back, and then one step forwards again – Peter Greenaway interviewed by John Richardson 206

    PART 4

    Operatic machines and their ghosts 211

    9 Leaving and re-entering: punctuating Einstein on the Beach 213


    10 Historia Einsteinalium: from the beach to the church, via theater and “state bank” 231


    Knee chapter 5

    Critical excavations 253

    Pieter T’Jonck, How democratic baroque came about in dance and Einstein on the Beach 253

    Frits van der Waa, Einstein in the press 261

    Appendix 1: Robert Wilson, Einstein on the Beach,storyboard drawings 271

    Appendix 2: Einstein on the Beach, spoken texts 276

    Bibliography 287

    Index 301


    Jelena Novak is Researcher at the Centre for the Study of the Sociology and Aesthetics of Music at NOVA University of Lisbon. Her publications include Opera u doba medija (Opera in the Age of Media), Postopera: Reinventing the Voice-Body, and Operofilia.

    John Richardson is Professor of Musicology at the University of Turku in Finland. His publications include An Eye for Music: Popular Music and the Audiovisual Surreal, Singing Archaeology: Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, and The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics (eds. Richardson, Gorbman, and Vernallis).