Einstein on the Beach is a four-act opera scored by composer Philip Glass and produced by Robert Wilson. It is an operatic portrait of the physicist Albert Einstein, and was the first in a trilogy of musical portraits composed by Glass. This and the two later operas, Satyagraha (1980) and Akhnaten (1983), used musical scores and minimal stage direction to tell the biography of a significant figure in history who expressed his vision through innovative thinking. Einstein is composed of a series of repeated cycles of music, solos and ensemble musical performances, and visual symbols to represent significant moments of the physicist’s life. Because its running time is just under 5 hours, the play required a cast of 4 leads in addition to a 16 person chorus, with an orchestra including multiple synthesizers and electric organs. There was no intermission, and audience members were free to leave and enter throughout the performance.
Before premiering at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on November 21, 1976, Einstein was shown first at the Avignon Festival in France at the start of a European tour. Although it is a biographical opera, Glass and Wilson intentionally excluded an obvious plotline and challenged the landscape of classical opera: the stage design and performers were decorated with symbols and gestures associated with the scientist, like atoms, a wild mane of white hair, and mathematical equations. Glass and Wilson wanted the audience to construct their own connections with both the character and the music of the opera.
The Sale of Robert Wilson’s Collection ends on December 31st.
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