The Pick: Einstein on the Beach at Luminato, your one chance to see Philip Glass’s masterwork
Einstein on the Beach, the 1976 magnum opus scored by American minimalist composer Philip Glass, isn’t your average opera: it’s an intense avante-garde bricolage of music, theatre, dance and spoken word. It’s also four-and-a-half hours long and is performed without intermission (audience members are encouraged to come and go as they please). The show hasn’t been performed in over 20 years. But Einstein is such a cultural landmark—and, by all accounts, such an overpowering artistic experience—that we simply couldn’t not recommend it.
Like traditional operas, Einstein is broken up into four acts, but there’s no real plot or conventional narrative structure to speak of. Instead, the work is brazenly abstract, luxuriating in aural and visual experimentation—a chorus chanting the numbers one through eight while a woman recites a Prufrock-like monologue, or dancers lurching across the stage while the same chorus mimics the frenetic beeps of a spaceship. Einstein himself makes an appearance in the form of a bewigged solo violinist. The music is aggressively structured, droning and chanting and buzzing in a number of relentlessly repetitive motifs—still it’s undergirded by the simple, clear harmonies and arpeggios that Glass has used throughout his career to charm audiences who’d otherwise never come within a 100 miles of contemporary classical music.
But in the end, it’s not really about the music or the dramaturgy. Einstein on the Beach is one of those elaborate, all-emcompassing works that envelops the audience, slowly chipping away at their expectations of logic or formula. If you let yourself be swept away, it’s a totally immersive theatrical experience—and this will probably be the only chance you’ll have to see it.
The details: June 8 to 10. $49–$175. Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front St. E., luminato.com