If the first of the three massive Philip Glass trilogies, Akhnaten, called for counter-measures against hypnotic effects, the second, running almost four hours, surely called for endurance.
Leigh Warren Dancers and State Opera of South Australia’s Einstein on the beach is not an opera to endure however. It is a live theatrical event to savour. Timothy Sexton, Leigh Warren, cast and crew have produced an aural, visual, and emotional behemoth, and every single second of the thrilling rollercoaster of sensory delights is remarkable.
As opera enthusiasts entered Her Majesty’s Theatre, one advised to “just surrender” instead of making any futile attempts to comprehend Einstein on the beach (it has no plot). Fears were allayed from just viewing the simple but intriguing black and white empty set, with lighting evocative of a strip of film.
And so it began. Five members of the Adelaide Art Orchestra (some multi-instrumentalists) took to the stage with conductor, Sexton. As the organ commenced and the chorus started softly singing numbers, dancers moved poignantly underneath a vertically moving isosceles triangle, which shape-shifted the whole stage.
The crossover of dancer-to-voice-actor utilised throughout was clever and successful; the first was dancer Deon Hastie reciting a light Mr Bojangles text. In the same vein, chorus singer-to-spoken-voice-actor resulted in one of the bravest (and well directed) opera scenes imaginable. The “Paris Text Incident” (which I hope it will forever be called), was brilliantly executed by the chorus, who are to be commended for their chutzpah (and legs!). It led to a comment from an older member of the audience who exclaimed, “Who knew Y-fronts could be so sexy?” Indeed.
Lighting Designer Geoff Cobham must have been in his element (pun intended). From the moving triangle lights on the stage floor, to the reflected mirror panels held by the cast to spotlight soloists, this was a show of light and shade and was heavy on both and everything in between.
Set and Costume Designer Mary Moore included great props. A ballet bar, bench seats, and light globes all helped to convey subtle inferences of Einstein’s world. Geometry, the infinity symbol, and pendulous and mathematical movements made this a show of intrigue.
The chorus, with exacting diction throughout, the orchestra, and the dancers, all with ludicrously complicated parts, created a consummate overall production. There were outstanding performances from dancer Gala Moody and solo violinist Carolyn Lam (also piano) for These are the days, dancer Rebecca Jones’ passionate en pointe for Supermarket, and Norbert Hohl, who brought a lump to my throat for Lovers on a park bench.
Three intervals later, an opera-goer exclaimed, “Oh… now I get it!” Whether or not you have a revelatory experience, this is one of the finest pieces of theatrical engineering and execution you could hope for. It is not-very-simply extraordinary. If you are still confused, here’s a simple equation to represent this production of Einstein on the beach: LWD + SOSA = 5*
This is utterly compelling “dopera” (dance opera) with only two chances left to see. If your boss won’t let you leave early for the 5pm start, quote Einstein himself: “The only source of knowledge is experience.”
The Glass-a-thon continues with Ghandi in Satyagraha.
5 August Akhnaten 7.30pm
7 August Einstein on the Beach 5pm
9 August Satyagraha 7.30pm
12 August Akhnaten 7.30pm
14 August Einstein on the Beach 5pm
16 August 2014 Satyagraha 7.30pm
19 August Akhnaten 7.30pm
21 August Einstein on the Beach 5pm
23 August Satyagraha 7.30pm
Reviewed by Emily Morris
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Season: Einstein on the beach – 7, 14, 21 August 2014
Duration: Two parts, 2 hours each, with 1 hour 45 min. dinner break in between.
Tickets: $25 – $135
Bookings: Book online through the BASS website or phone 131 246