An Einstein "Like Nothing Else" Comes to LA Opera

MAILANDER’S LA-"Can my socks be off the record?" Christopher Koelsch, youthful, deliberate, fastidious President and CEO of LA Opera asks me, after my too-pointed question about his green and purple chaussettes. 

Koelsch is in the second row of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, watching carpenters knock down the remnants of the Carmen set and prepping the stage for Einstein on the Beach, a touring opera of theater, dance, and music coming to the Chandler for three performances this weekend, with a dress rehearsal Thursday.

Lively socks are as much a trademark for him as lively hair is for Einstein.  He won't tell me where he bought them.  But Koelsch is far more comfortable talking about the economic condition of the opera, which is surprisingly sturdy after its very turbulent times, induced by a bad economy and an over-extended production of the Ring cycle.

The fact that LA Opera can bring one of the most original, stand-alone works of one of America's most original, stand-alone and prolific composers, Phillip Glass, to Los Angeles for three nights between the stagings of other operas is a testament to the recent successes of LA Opera in a tough economic climate.  Only three years ago, the company faced bankruptcy and was bailed out by a County-assembled bond--which the company paid off around the time Koelsch, long a company administrative fixture, became its president and CEO. 

I spoke to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky about this a week ago.  Yaroslavsky was instrumental to the bailout. "I know they've turned a corner," Yaroslavsky told me on the phone.  The Supervisor went to the season opening night of Carmen, his favorite opera, two weeks ago.  "It was sold out," he enthused. 

Carmen is one kind of thrill, but Koelsch is also thrilled to stage Einstein on the Beach. He calls it an "open format" opera, intends to honor that format, and doesn't mind when I press him on whether or not the audience is going to be free to come and go during the four-hour-plus work as the composer's directions originally call for.  Not only will they be free to come and go, but there will be a social media lounge on the top floor during the performances, hooked up for wifi &c. 

"There are natural breaks in it," he says, suggesting the first "knee play" may be one.  As it happens, this is one of my favorite parts of the opera, an odd jumble-fugue of minimal musical counting and rapid-fire numerological scatter dialog that I've always wanted to see performed, so I won't be stepping out there.  Overall, the opera "will afford a sense of the communal experience of the '60's."

Koelsch has a relationship with Glass that goes back to the early '90's.  He can speak with considerable authority regarding Glass's preferences, and even get in the composer's head at times.

When I ask Koelsch about whether or not we should group Einstein on the Beach with Akhnaten and Satyagraha, he thinks.  "I think Phillip would say now that it would be more readily linked to Kepler and Galileo Galilei, the operas about scientists."

The fact that Glass's body of work is so enormous now that one can make different kinds of trilogies of his portrait, biographical, minimal and avant-garde excursions is not lost on me. But, sure, as excerpts from Akhnaten played downtown recently, Koelsch would love to stage Satyagraha too some time, although there are no plans to stage it at this time.

The singularity of the work even within the Glass oeuvre is a key to the success of this long-touring opera--only the third such touring opera LA Opera has attempted to stage in over 25 years.  Einstein on the Beach "exists in a vacuum," Koelsch insists.  "It's not terribly influential as it's so unique. But in that way it remains at the bleeding edge of the avant-garde.  It is astonishing to look at, and it is like nothing else." 

Look out for an Einstein "street team" of people peddling news of the opera these next few days.  They'll look like Einstein.  I don't what kind of socks they'll be wearing. 

Einstein on the Beach is at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion this Friday, October 11 and Saturday October at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday October 13 at 2 p.m.  Tickets are available here

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.)







Vol 11 Issue 81

Pub: Oct 7, 2013