This will be counting but

For the first time ever, I have temporarily reached the top of the culture pecking order in France, since I was able to go see “Einstein on the Beach” during its run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in January. This was clearly “the” évènement to attend (even two months or so before, buying two good contiguous seats was almost impossible), and the reactions of the audience suggested that many people were there because of the “the” instead of their desire to see the évènement, and were correspondingly a bit nonplussed by the work. Thus the two people sitting on my right left after a bit more than a third of the opera. (It was clearly indicated that, during the performance, which is a bit longer than four hours and has no intermission, it was allowed to leave and come back as desired, but they did not reappear).

Personally, I knew the music extremely well and it was a great pleasure to finally see the full spectacle. I had already attended two other Robert Wilson stagings, and I like his style (i.e., I have no objection to watching a light pillar move from horizontal to vertical in the space of twenty minutes or so), but it was the first time I saw a full-length Glass opera live, and I’d have paid gladly quite a bit more than I did.

The full staging certainly answers a few of the puzzled questions one might get from the music alone. In particular, the scenes entitled “Dance 1” and “Dance 2” felt more alive when seen as, well, dances. In fact, I arbitrarily decided that the first represents electromagnetism (it begins with a voice saying “Bern, Switzerland, 1905”), and the second nuclear forces (a sinister character crosses the stage and I see it as representing the potential for evil arising from nuclear physics). Einstein would have appreciated that, despite the random-looking evolutions of the dancers, these were certainly not the result of dice throws, since collisions would certainly have been unavoidable otherwise.

One of the Paris representations was filmed, and shown on French television, so that it can be found on the internet. However, I watched it a bit, and the fact that there are many cameras giving different angles of view seems to diminish the full immersive effect of the live show. But that’s certainly better than nothing…

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

2 thoughts on “This will be counting but”

  1. This is a somewhat pointless comment, but why does this post say “one comment” when I can only see zero, and the previous post says “two comments” when I can only see one? (These numbers may vary after this comment.)

    Speaking of Philip Glass in movie form, do you have any opinion on Koyaanisqatsi?

  2. The number of comments is wrong because it counts the un-moderated ones, which are (unfiltered) spam that I haven’t yet bothered deleting from the queue. I should look for a setting to only count published comments…

    As for Koyaanisqatsi, I like it (and sometimes listen to the soundtrack), but I’ve only seen it on small screens; if it was screened nearby in a proper cinema, I would probably try hard to get there…

    I would also love to see “the CIVIL warS” live; it seems to be playing some time this semester in LA, but that’s a bit too far.

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