Phillip Glass and the Phillip Glass Ensemble's performance of "Einstein on the Beach" last night was a sonic boa constrictor that ate Carnegie Hall whole, demanding that we examine every nuance of its innards.
The opera is composed of fast-paced arpeggios on three electric keyboards, clarinet, saxophone and violin, spoken word sections and a chorus' repeated intonation of "One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight," along with other phrases. For three hours, all of this went through subtle changes in time-signature and syncopation and drastic dynamic shifts. Intermittently, violinist Tim Fain would step out from backstage and tear through an awe-inspiring set of 16th notes. Fain's strings, the opera's serpent tongue, left my mouth agape long after he bowed and returned backstage.
Master Glass wrote the opera in the late 1970s, while he plumbed toilets and drove a taxi for a living. This was an abridged performance--the original lasted about 5 hours.
Like a dream, every last detail of last night's performance is sure to fade from memory--to be replaced, eventually, by some vague recollection. But I'm expecting that this arpeggiating Einstein, full of intoned phrases, will show up in one of my nightmares some day. Or return to me suddenly, like a visceral LSD flashback.