Glass's career-making 1976 opera, a collaboration with avant-garde impresario Robert Wilson, was revolutionary then, revered now. This "properly hypnotic" 1996 recording, says the Washington Post, is "more complete than the first recording and superior in both performance and sound." Widely credited as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century, this rarely performed opera in four acts is touring the world in 2012, nearly four decades after it was first performed and twenty years since its last production.
Although Einstein on the Beach
is by definition an opera, Philip Glass's most famous work also transcends traditional music categories. Glass avoided all vestiges of plot in the piece and dug deep into his quiver of repetitions to create an artfully unnerving five hours of brilliance. The instrumental ensemble never exceeds five members, playing electric keyboards, saxophones, flutes, and a single violin. Furthermore, the music congregates around the upper registers, often darting through its loops at seemingly incredible paces. The chorus bears huge chops, creating a dense, if silkenly staccato, series of juts, and a powerful array of higher-register annunciations that ring with the aural power of leaping, blurring filaments. This 1993 version of Einstein
truly supersedes its predecessors, stretching to around 190 minutes over three CDs. There is a strong current of postmodern collage throughout the piece, with rafts of pop culture references. But Einstein
, after all, is indeed based loosely on Albert Einstein and ends with booming allusions to nuclear annihilation and mathematics. --Andrew Bartlett