2. Evening Song (from Satyagraha) 4:07
3. Hymn To The Sun (from Akhnaten) 6:16
4. Trial/Prison (from Einstein On The Beach) 2:47
5. Akhnaten & Nefertiti (from Akhnaten) 4:15
6. Kuru Field of Justice (from Satyagraha) 6:04
7. Knee 1 (from Einstein On The Beach) 3:32
8. Tolstoy Farm (from Satyagraha) 4:54
9. Window of Appearances (from Akhnaten) 4:22
10. Bed (from Einstein On The Beach) 3:40
11. Epilogue (from Akhnaten) 4:18
12. Knee 5 (from Einstein On The Beach) 5:10
Glass’s first opera runs for four and a half hours with no intermissions. It has only one soloist and a small chorus that sings numbers and solfege — not a typical prescription for success. Yet a success it was.
Einstein on the Beach, which premiered in 1977, was followed by two more operas that together form a trilogy of portrait operas. As Einstein portrays a great man of science, so each of the subsequent operas also focuses on a man whose personal vision revolutionized the thinking of his time by the power of his ideas and without the force of arms. Satyagraha, from 1980, examines Gandhi and his early political activity in South Africa. Akhnaten, from 1983, depicts the Egyptian king whom history remembers as the first monotheist.
Without the use of plot, narrative or character development in any traditional sense, the operas explore the public and private lives of the subjects in their social and political eras. As Glass explains in his book Music by Philip Glass, facts and chronology are included in the flow of movements, images, speaking and singing.
Though the operas do not have tubercular heroines, lovestruck heroes, or other elements of standard operatic fare, the selections or “songs” on this disc, nevertheless, reveal that emotional content and lyrical vocal writing are very much a part of Glass’s operatic output. In fact, the depth of musical substance in these selections and in the operas’ energetic choruses and dances leaves little doubt why these operas, though contemporary, continue to succeed in numerous productions.
Einstein on the Beach premiered in 1977 at the Avignon Festival in France and in the United States at the Metropolitan Opera in November of that year in two legendary, soldout performances. A collaboration between Glass and the American director Robert Wilson, who designed and staged the work, Einstein is scored for Glass’s ensemble of amplified winds and keyboards, a soprano soloist and a small chorus. The images of a train, trial, prison and spaceship are exposed and juxtaposed to form the scenic structures. The five “knee plays” are smaller, connecting scenes, like joints between the larger scenes, and are common to many of Wilson’s operas.
Satyagraha, a Sanskrit word meaning “truth-force”, is the name of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance which he used to galvanize a political movement in South Africa and which later greatly influenced the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Glass’s opera premiered in Rotterdam in 1980. It calls for nine soloists and large chorus singing Sanskrit texts adapted by Constance DeJong from the Bhagavad-Gita (a portion of the Hindu religious epic, the Mahabharata, and translated as “Songs of the Lord”). Though the music in Satyagraha displays Glass’s movement toward a more expressive idiom, the orchestral writing, for strings and woodwinds (no brass or percussion), deliberately resembles the linear, hard-edged sound of his ensemble music.
The religious reformer Akhnaten ruled Egypt from 1375 to 1358 B.C. and introduced to his nation the radical idea of an abstract god, not represented by a physical idol. Glass’s opera, which premiered in Stuttgart in 1983, uses vocal texts in three ancient languages: Egyptian, Akkadian and biblical Hebrew, with the exception of the “Hymn to the Sun” and the narration, which are in the language of the audience. Glass wrote the role of the boy-king Akhnaten for a countertenor; there are five other soloists, including a soprano, Nefertiti, Akhnaten’s wife. The orchestral writing in Akhnaten is more traditional than in Satyagraha, yet to meet the spacial requirements of a small orchestra pit, the string section lacks violins, thus creating a warmer, darker sound.
While the operas that constitute the portrait trilogy have been widely performed in Europe arid the United States, they have not yet been presented together as a trilogy (except on disc). “The trilogy is meant to be heard in three consecutive evenings, and that will happen for the first time in June 1990 in Stuttgart. It’s hard to know just exactly what it’s going to be like,” Glass remarked. “I’m just as eager as everyone else to see it.”
— Jody Dalton
Evening Song: Douglas Perry, Tenor / New York City Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
Hymn to the Sun: Paul Esswood, Tenor / Stuttgart State Opera, Orchestra & Chorus.
Trial/Prison: Lucinda Childs, Speaker / Jon Gibson, Soprano Saxophone / Richard Landry, Bass Clarinet.
Akhnaten & Nefertiti: Paul Esswood, Tenor / Milagro Vargas, Soprano / Stuttgart State Opera, Orchestra & Chorus.
Kuru Field of Justice: Douglas Perry, Tenor / Robert McFarland, Baritone / New York City Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
Knee 1: Lucinda Childs, Speaker / Sheryl Sutton, Speaker / Philip Glass, Organ.
Tolstoy Farm: Douglas Perry, Tenor / Claudia Cummings, Soprano / Sheryl Woods, Soprano / Rhonda Liss, Alto / Robert McFarland, Baritone / Scott Reeve, Bass / New York City Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
Window of Appearances: Paul Esswood, Tenor / Milagro Vargas, Soprano / Stuttgart State Opera, Orchestra & Chorus.
Bed: Iris Hiskey, Soprano / George Andoniadis, Organ.
Epilogue: Paul Esswood, Tenor / Milagro Vargas, Soprano / Stuttgart State Opera, Orchestra & Chorus.
Knee 5: Lucinda Childs, Speaker / Sheryl Sutton, Speaker / Paul Zukofsky, Violin / Philip Glass, Organ / Mr. Johnson, Bus driver.
EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH: Music and Lyrics by Philip Glass. Book by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson. Spoken texts: “These Are the Days,” “I Feel the Earth Move”. by Christopher Knowles. “Two Lovers” by Samuel M. Johnson. Performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble. Michael Riesman, Conductor. Produced by Philip Glass and Kurt Munkacsi. Recorded at the Big Apple Recording Studios, New York, 1978. (Sony Masterworks M4K 38875)
SATYAGRAHA: Music by Philip Glass Vocal text by Constance DeJong adapted from the Bhagavad-Gita. Book by Philip Glass and Constance DeJong. The New York City Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Christopher Keene, Conductor. Produced by Kurt Munkacsi and Michael Riesman. Recorded at RCA Studio A, New York, 1984. (Sony Masterworks M3K 39672)
AKHNATEN: Music by Philip Glass. Libretto by Philip Glass in association with Shalom Goldman, Robert Israel and Richard Riddell. The Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Dennis Russell Davies, Conductor. Produced by Kurt Munkacsi and Michael Riesman. Recorded at Karlsh÷he Church and Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg, West Germany, 1987. Mixed at The Living Room, New York. (Sony Masterworks M2K 42457)
Compilation produced by Kurt Munkacsi for Euphorbia Productions, Ltd. Musical supervision: Michael Riesman. Editorial consultant: Jody Dalton. Album coordinator: Rory Johnston. Edited and sequenced using Sound Tools by digidesign at the Living Room, New York, New York. Mastered at Masterdisk.
Cover design: Joel Zimmerman. Einstein illustration by Milton Glaser. Satyagraha photo of Douglas Perry by Harry M. DeBan ¨ Harry M. DeBan. Akhnaten photo ¨ 1984 Horst Huber.
All music published by Dunvagen Music Publishers, Inc. (ASCAP). © 1979, 1985, 1987 Sony Music Entertainment Inc. Compilation © 1989 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.