Einstein on the Beach success may be due to audiences willing to enter and get lost


A scene from the Opéra de Montpellier revival of Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, which opened Friday night. It arrives at the Sony Centre for three performances, starting June 8 (Lucie Jansch photo for Le Figaro).

“You don’t have to understand anything. It is a work where you can go and get lost,” says Robert Wilson of his Einstein on the Beach, the opera he co-created with composer Philip Glass.

Einstein is set to have its Canadian premiere on June 8, at this year’s Luminato festival. This revival, which had its first public performance in Montpellier, France, on Friday night, is intended to take the opera to places it hasn’t been since its 1976 premiere (also in France).

It is an opportunity to experience live a rare modern-day example of an opera that has gone from controversial to iconic in the space of a single generation.

Has Einstein been so successful because we don’t have to understand anything, and all we have to do is go and get lost?

I wonder how many people who buy tickets for a new piece of music or theatre, or who buy a novel from a first-time author — any situation where one can’t see beyond the curtain or the cover until the act of engaging with the creator(s) has begun — are able to commit such a leap of faith?

With Twitter and Facebook, the reactions come in real time, now, so, really, how many of us truly arrive with no understanding, these days?

But arriving prepared to get lost is possible. While that may not be the best of strategies while shopping for groceries, I think it’s an amazing way to approach art.

For most, it requires a strong act of will to approach  performances with hope and trust that the creators and interpreters will take us where we need to go. And just imagine how much planning and preparation artists have had to do in order to accomplish this.

I suspect that, as many of us think about getting new audiences interested in the performing arts, we should aim at fostering a sense of ease and security among the curious.

An old sign outside Honest Ed’s has beckoned “Come in and get lost,” for decades. It’s a good start.

The Luminato website is currently down. There are three performances of Einstein on the Beach at the Sony Centre, starting  June 8.

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Here is a bit of background on the Einstein revival from Nonesuch records (which has re-released its 1993 recording). If you can read French, there’s an article in Le Figaro on the Montpellier revival, and how the year-long enterprise was helped along by Opéra de Montpellier general director, Jean-Paul ­Scarpitta, who helped raise the 750,000 euro needed to get it off the ground in only three months.

Here’s the official 2012 Einstein on the Beach trailer, from where I got Wilson’s words:

John Terauds

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One thought on “Einstein on the Beach success may be due to audiences willing to enter and get lost

  1. I was very fortunate to have attended the Montpellier premiere – definitely not lost on the way having booked 9 months in advance – but lost in wonderment from the moment I entered the auditorium just as the first of the knee plays began. Or is that pre-knee play. Hint, do go into the auditorium as soon as the doors open.
    Having attended operas around the world for most of my 30odd adult years this was one of the greatest nights in the theatre ever.
    I confess however to long being a fan of Wilson’s theatre and opera productions.
    There is the much discussed and debated hypnotic effect of the Glass score definitely in evidence. Yet I was alert and wide awake, despite jet lag for the entire five hours.
    Glass is terribly charming and self-deprecating as I discovered the next morning at breakfast (he was staying in the same hotel) and is still going strong!

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