Philip Glass’s, Einstein on the Beach, strays far from the traditional operas that came previously in multiple ways. Everything that this opera encompasses, changes perspectives on what opera “is” and “should be.” In particular, before the 20th century, many operas had a certain plot, most dealing with love, or similar life drama. This made the communication from the artists to the audience somewhat constrained, leaving little room, if any, for interpretations. The complete opposite is the case for Einstein on the Beach, which contains no plot and therefore leaves the audience members to interpret the opera almost entirely all on their own. There is no concrete meaning in the opera and I believe that is what makes it so different and interesting. The point is, there is no point. The point is up to you to decide. There are simply ideas such as: Albert Einstein, space, liberation, and more, that is put together with sound and movement that conveys almost literally whatever the listener wants or thinks. I believe the artists involved wanted the audience to participate with an active imagination with the opera to draw their own meaning and interpretations.
Albert Einstein is one theme of the opera, according to Philip Glass, and allows the audience to make a quick connection simply because everyone knows this huge influential figure of the time. As the opera plays out, it is up to the audience to react to what they are hearing and seeing to decide on the meaning. For example the opening scenes made me think: “Why is the chorus counting to 4, to 6 then to 8? Why is the progression the same? What is the little boy depicting? What is the train for? Who is the man that looks like he is writing on a chalkboard? Are those solfege syllables they are singing? Is he writing on a chalkboard? Oh maybe it’s Albert Einstein!” These were all questions running through my mind while watching, and led me to believe the opera was about transformation through time and being in the mind of Eisntien. If you read Susan Flake’s review Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach, her interpretation is dramatically different. For example, she heard the chorus singing “Eeenah, meenah”, not solfege, and the idea of the opera is built on universally understood things. To Craig Owens in Einstein on the Beach: The Primacy of Metaphor, the images in the opera “are not open to interpretation”, he believes there is an analytical approach and that the opera is a metaphor. Already, there are three different interpretations from three different people, which lead back to the artists wanting the audience to have their own interpretation instead of one being concretely set.
20th century is about change and breaking away from what we deem as “traditional.” The production of Einstein on the Beach breaks rules of traditional opera and sets new boundaries. The importance is “the consciousness of the individual spectator” creating a story out of what is being presented. The artist “don’t give you a plot; [they] give you a theme. And the audience completes the story.”
Flakes, Susan. “Robert Wilson’s “Einstein on the Beach”.” The Drama Review: TDR 20, no. 4 (1976): 69-82. doi:10.2307/1145076.
Owens, Craig. “”Einstein on the Beach”: The Primacy of Metaphor.” October 4 (1977): 21-32. doi:10.2307/778477.
Rath, Arun. “The Minds Behind Einstein On The Beach Talk Shop.” NPR. October 12, 2013. Accessed March 06, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2013/10/12/231595649/the-minds-behind-einstein-on-the-beach-talk-shop.