Einstein on the Beach – Toronto – Luminato Festival 6

This past Saturday, Lisa, myself, and some friends went to Toronto to attend the performance of Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, presented as part of the Luminato Festival 6.  I had long wanted to see a performance of this work, ever since my early exposure and interests in Glass some 18 years ago, and was very happy to finally satisfy this long-held curiosity.

The performance was done without intermissions, and lasted about 4.5 hours.  The performance used the original staging.  The performance was… astounding. I was mostly mesmerized from the start to finish, sitting in my seat throughout the performance.  Glass’s music felt as fresh as ever (I find his early music has “it”, that quality that permeates a timeless work).  Robert Wilson’s staging was equally as present, and Lucinda Childs’ choreography was a joy to watch.  

The highlights for me were the first Dance scene and the Spaceship scene, the first for the dance and the latter for the music.  The rest of the work was of fantastic, but those two scenes were particularly engaging for me.  The violinist did a wonderful job, as did the rest of the performers.

If there was any criticism I would have for the work, I would say two things stuck out. The first is the Building scene: the solo saxophonist didn’t really work for me.  Musically and dramatically it felt like a departure from the rest of the work. While the opera as a whole had a wonderfully surreal quality, I felt the saxophone solo broke from it.  While the visuals and rest of what was going on stage may continued the surreal dream-like world of the rest of the scenes, the music was enough to break focus and threw me off a bit.

Secondly, the performer doing the narrations involving “Mr. Bojangles.” At times I had some difficulty in understanding what was being said, especially compared to the performer doing the narrations for “I was in this prematurely air-conditioned supermarket…”.  It felt that the first performer had gotten a bit tongue-tied at times, keeping up with the rapid pace of the dialogue.

Overall, I thought the performance was fantastic, and I was more than ecstatic in satisfying this long held curiosity to see this work.  I hope that later in my life that there will continue to be performances of this work to attend.  I was also very inspired by this performance, and I look forward to now getting back to my own composing work.

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