I was fortunate to see Einstein on the Beach at the
Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984. That was following the original
1976 production. It was then revived in 1992 and again this
year (2012). I have memories of it being an astounding spectacle,
memorable for its visual aspects, and for its music. I've
owned all recordings of Einstein over the years - from
the original LPs on Tomato, to the Sony reissue on CD, to the
later Nonesuch recording. I was never satisfied, until recently,
when Philip Glass's Orange Mountain Music released a
217-minute recording of the 1984 production, available only
by download from Amazon and the iTunes Store.
At the same time, Orange Mountain Music released this CD/DVD
set, which contains "highlights" of the 1984 recording,
together with a DVD, The Changing Image of Opera. I
was a bit apprehensive at first at the idea of reducing this
long work to a 77-minute highlights disc, especially since the
minimalist music of the work can only be fully appreciated as
it deploys over time. With this in mind I was pleasantly surprised
to hear how well this disc works. It's nothing like the
entire opera; it's a summary of the main themes, in 21
tracks, but it does work well as a reduction of Einstein.
The recording is excellent - as is the complete recording -
and the editing of the highlights is tastefully done.
Certainly, if you care about Einstein on the Beach,
you need to get the "full" version, but if you care
about this work, you also need this set. That 58-minute documentary
is well worth the price of admission. There are interviews with
Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, but also extensive footage of
the 1984 performances - most likely filmed during rehearsals,
given the tight shots. There has never been this much film of
any Einstein recording before; this documentary was
made for PBS and broadcast in 1985, but never before released
on video or DVD.
Naturally, the 2012 revival was filmed and recorded, and we'll
probably see a luxurious Blu-Ray/CD set with plenty of bonuses,
backstage footage, making of clips and much more. In the meantime,
this is the best way to understand this musical-theater work
that truly did change the way people looked at opera and theater.
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his
blog Kirkville (http://www.mcelhearn.com).