Einstein on the Beach: Opera beyond Drama: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Einstein on the Beach: Opera beyond Drama

1st Edition

Edited by Jelena Novak, John Richardson


352 pages | 37 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781472473707
pub: 2019-12-19
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Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s most celebrated collaboration, the landmark opera Einstein on the Beach, had its première 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, theatre 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 interviews with film and theatre luminary Peter Greenaway, as well as a short chapter of reminiscences written by the singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures

List of Music Examples

Foreword: Susan McClary, Music and Culture in the Wake of Einstein

Introduction by John Richardson and Jelena Novak


List of Contributors

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


Chapter 1 Robert Fink, Einstein on the Radio

Chapter 2 Johannes Birringer, Sous les pavés, la plage

Chapter 3 Miško Šuvaković, A Critical Testimony: Einstein on the Beach in Belgrade

Knee Chapter 2Einstein on the Beach is not radical, it is classic: Robert Wilson interviewed by Bojan Djordjev


  • Chapter 4 Kyle Gann, Intuition and Algorithm in Einstein on the Beach
  • Chapter 5 Pwyll ap Sion, "Only pictures to hear": Reading Einstein on the Beach through Experimental Theater
  • Chapter 6 Avra Sidiropoulou, Creating Beauty in Chaos: Robert Wilson’s Visual Authorship in Einstein on the Beach

Knee Chapter 3 – Stay out of the Way of Bob Wilson when he Dances: Lucinda Childs interviewed by Jelena Novak


  • Chapter 7 Leah G. Weinberg, Heavenly Bodies: The Integral Role of Dance in Einstein on the Beach
  • Chapter 8 Zeynep Bulut, Anonymous Voice, Sound, Indifference

Knee Chapter 4 – Artists Recall and Respond:

  • Suzanne Vega, Under the Influence - Philip Glass
  • Two Finnish Composers Reminisce: Juhani Nuorvala, Petri Kuljuntausta
  • Tom Johnson, Rehearsing Einstein on the Beach
  • Two steps forwards but three steps back, and then one step forwards again - Peter Greenaway interviewed by John Richardson



  • Chapter 9 Sander van Maas, Leaving and Re-entering: Punctuating Einstein on the Beach
  • Chapter 10 Jelena Novak, Historia Einsteinalium: From the Beach to the Church, via Theater and ‘State Bank’

Knee Chapter 5 – Pieter T’Jonck, How Democratic Baroque Came about in Dance and Einstein on the Beach

  • Frits van der Waa, Einstein in the Press


Appendix 1 Robert Wilson, Einstein on the Beach, storyboard images

Appendix 2 Einstein on the Beach, spoken texts



About the Editors

Jelena Novak works as a researcher at Center for Studies of Sociology and Aesthetics of Music (CESEM), Universidade NOVA de Lisboa. Her fields of interests are modern and contemporary music, recent opera, musical theatre, singing and new media, capitalist realism, voice studies and feminine identities in music. Exploring those fields, she works as a researcher, lecturer, writer, dramaturge, music critic, editor and curator focused on bringing together critical theory and contemporary art. She has been a founding committee member of the Society for Minimalist Music and a founding member of the editorial collective TkH [Walking Theory]. In 2013 she won the Thurnau Award for Music-Theatre Studies from the University of Bayreuth, Germany. Her most recent books are Postopera: Reinventing the Voice-Body (Routledge, 2015) and Operofilia (Orion Art, 2018).

About the Series

Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera

Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera
The Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera series provides a centralized and prominent forum for the presentation of cutting-edge scholarship that draws on numerous disciplinary approaches to a wide range of subjects associated with the creation, performance, and reception of opera (and related genres) in various historical and social contexts. There is great need for a broader approach to scholarship about opera. In recent years, the course of study has developed significantly, going beyond traditional musicological approaches to reflect new perspectives from literary criticism and comparative literature, cultural history, philosophy, art history, theatre history, gender studies, film studies, political science, philology, psycho-analysis, and medicine. The new brands of scholarship have allowed a more comprehensive interrogation of the complex nexus of means of artistic expression operative in opera, one that has meaningfully challenged prevalent historicist and formalist musical approaches. The Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera series continues to move this important trend forward by including essay collections and monographs that reflect the ever-increasing interest in opera in non-musical contexts. Books in the series are linked by their emphasis on the study of a single genre - opera - yet are distinguished by their individualized and novel approaches by scholars from various disciplines/fields of inquiry. The remit of the series welcomes studies of seventeenth century to contemporary opera from all geographical locations, including non-Western topics.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / General
MUSIC / Genres & Styles / Opera