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January 27, 2007

Barbarians at the PAC

I was a student at Harvard, when the first recording of Einstein on the Beach was released. Philip Glass did a record signing at the Harvard COOP, and I decided to go down to check it out. Naturally, they played the opera on the stereo, as the composer sat at a table, signing records and chatting amiably with the customers. After about an hour of this, one of the COOP staffers cracked. Shaking visibly, she strode over to the stereo, said “I just can’t take this any more!” and — right in front of the composer — took Einstein on the Beach off the stereo and put something else on in its stead.

Everyone looked slightly embarrassed, at what had just transpired. Except for Philip Glass, who kept right on chatting and signing records, as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary had taken place.

It was around this time that I read J.M. Coetzee’s novella, Waiting for the Barbarians. It was, or so it appeared, an allegory for the brutalities of South African apartheid regime’s battle with the black nationalists.

The libretto of the Philip Glass opera, whose American premier was performed, here, by the Austin Lyric Opera is quite faithful to Coetzee’s novella. The set is stunning, and the music sweeps us along with the Magistrate, and his town’s, descent into the abyss.

The barbarians, whose threat, Colonel Joll assures the Magistrate, requires the “strictly temporary” suspension of various civil liberties (and the rather graphic torture of as many “prisoners” as he can scoop up) seem much closer to home than they did back then, not so easily dismissed as an allegory about the troubles in some faraway land. And this, too, lends a certain urgency to the unfolding drama.

If there are still tickets to the final performance, Monday night, … go.

Posted by distler at January 27, 2007 11:43 PM

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Re: Barbarians at the PAC

For the world year of physics there was a production of Einstein on the beach in the save of the former treasury of the GDR in Berlin. Even if the entire thing lasts over four hours IIRC and has some repetitive elements I think this was the most memorable opera performance I have ever seen.

Posted by: Robert on January 29, 2007 6:05 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Barbarians at the PAC

Must be some safe, I suppose just walking into it would have done enough for me and not only acoustically.

Posted by: Mike on January 31, 2007 8:36 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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