Sunday, October 28, 2012


Ten excellent things about Friday's performance, both the production and my experience of it. I write this doing no other research beyond that of my own memory - I have not looked to get a better grasp of what the opera is "about", and will not look to confirm my impressions until after this piece is done. But the piece, which is being revived and touched down in Berkeley this weekend (the second of only two US airings of the work), made a hell of an impression.

1. Having never been to Zellerbach Hall, I feared our seats on Right Tier would be far back. Happily, they landed us just 20 feet from stage right, where the show's five Knee Plays would be performed. (So called as they serve as joints between the larger acts, allowing commentary and short breathers while sets are changed.) These pieces, largely movement/text duos, were meticulously performed by Helga Davis and Kate Moran.

2. Philip Glass' score was throbbing, ever-evolving, often moving throughout. I can't imagine experiencing it separately from the performance - it's clearly a tight collaboration between Glass, choreographer Lucinda Childs, and director/designer Robert Wilson.

3. Wilson's incredible imagination creates stage pictures spun from Einstein's life and legacy that continue to speak to our history and imagination, The show hasn't dated in the slightest since its 70s premiere.

4. Powerful, evocative choreography by Lucinda Childs, whose dancers spin like mating atoms through two strong sections. But every actor is a powerful mover in his/her own way - to land on such repetitive action and dialogue so solidly and presently speaks to some superhuman stamina.

1. Gorgeous music during 2a, the trial section.

2. The night train duet, section 1b, unfolding in the light of a shifting moon is the most Gothic thing I've ever seen,

3. The second trial scene boasts an incredible reading of about four lines of text by Moran, going blithely from trial to prison through several costume pieces. It's an incredible display of performative control, and Moran brings a weird kind of heat to it. If she slipped up during her recitation (I can only imagine how exacting this kind of minimalism can be), I didn't notice.

4. Dear God, the sax solo... Glass' score churns and shifts evocatively throughout, but four-plus hours of grand minimalism threatens to wear on the audience. So smart and generous, then, to open Act 4 with a solo improvised over Glass' sonic fields. Andrew Sterman stepped up and delivered, in every conceivable way. Space flight was almost an afterthought. Almost.

5. Absurd as it may sound, what I found most thrilling during the mission control segment that climaxes the show was realizing that THE BAND WERE IN MISSION CONTROL.

6. And so happy to find a Knee Play closing the show, with a despondent Davis and Moran uncertain under the shadow of the atom bomb, with a kindly bus driver offering benediction and hope, as well as release from this sprawling, moving, precise yet human work.

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