Major Operas | Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass | Modern Era

Composed: 1974–75
Premiered: 1976, Avignon
Libretto by Christopher Knowles, Lucinda Childs and Samuel M. Johnson

Einstein on the Beach is divided into four acts, separated by five intermezzi, which allow for set changes. The performance is continuous and the audience are at liberty to leave and return as they wish. There is no plot, but there are references to the life and work of Albert Einstein, who appears at various stages of his life, including as an elderly violinist and as a scientist writing mathematical formulae on a blackboard. The limited text, both spoken and sung, complements the visual images of Robert Wilson’s original production. Some scenes are almost entirely composed of numbers and solfège syllables. There are four actors and a chorus of 13 voices.

Act I

Train 1: a train appears and slowly travels into the distance, where it is transformed into a building.
Trial 1: incorporates the song ‘Mr Bojangles’ and the spoken text ‘All Men are Equal’ (Johnson).

Act II

Dance 1 – Field with Spaceship.
Night Train.


Trial 2/Prison: incorporates the spoken texts ‘Prematurely Air–Conditioned Supermarket’ (Childs) and ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ (Knowles).
Dance 2 – Field with Spaceship.

Act IV

Bed: cadenza and aria for solo soprano.
Spaceship: as the chorus frantically chant numbers, the scene builds up to something that might be interpreted as a nuclear holocaust.

Personalities | Philip Glass | Modern Era | Opera


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