An original score for Einstein on the Beach (1976), the transformative opera work by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass, is going to New York’s Morgan Library & Museum by way of a gift from the estate of the late collector and philanthropist Paul F. Walter. Signed by Glass, who composed the piece’s hypnotic music, the gift of the score will join “scene designs and other items related to the work” from the same donor, who died in 2017.
In a statement, Colin B. Bailey, the Morgan’s director, said, “Many have said that the true starting point of contemporary opera was 1976 with the production of Einstein on the Beach in Avignon”—the site of the work’s premiere in France before further performances in Europe and a storied two-night run that same year at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The announcement of the news acknowledged ways in which Einstein on the Beach “broke a host of operatic conventions,” which is one way to put it. Another way is to just cite these words from a typically mesmerizing part of the four-plus-hour work, uttered some 43 times by a wonderfully inscrutable character named “Witness”:
I was in this prematurely air-conditioned supermarket
and there were all these aisles
and there were all these bathing caps that you could buy
that had these kind of Fourth of July plumes on them
they were blue and red and yellow
I wasn’t tempted to buy one
but I was reminded of the fact that I had been avoiding the beach.