"Thus open the gates of paradise."

In this issue

Monsters Of Grace

06 Apr 2002

Years ago I taped a friend's copy of the Phillip Glass opera "Einstein On The Beach." For the most part, I like Glass' music. However, I found that "EOTB" was an exercise in unlistenability to the point where, after having started the tape playing for my college roommate, attending class, then having come back to find the tape still playing, I shouted, "Turn that thing off!" and slammed my hand on the tape deck. That particular tape has not seen the light of day since.

So it's a bit of a mystery why I went to see Glass' latest opus, Monsters of Grace, performed live in Toronto at Roy Thompson Hall. Have you ever been there? Some of the best seats are right down on the floor in the middle, and we had a pretty good view of them from where we were sitting up in the nosebleed seats.We were up in the Gods, as far right as you could get so you could still see the projection screen (the Phillip Glass ensemble performed live underneath a 70mm computer-generated film.) It being 3D, everyone was wearing polarized 3D glasses. Out usher's caution when handing them out bears repeating: "Hesitate to touch the lenses." What could this mean? Was it a polite way of telling me that I'd be sorry if I mucked around with these fragile things, or did she just subscribe to the saying that good things come to those who wait. Or hesitate. But aren't you lost in that case? These, and our incredible altitude filled my obviously vacant mind while we waited for the lights to go down.

The music was just fine, to my ear -- in parts dreamy and soothing, in others very urgent and clangy. Maybe this doesn't sound so great, but it kind of was. However, I could easily have done without the film. It was dim (perhaps due to its geometry with respect to our seats), and moved in a way that physicists call "quasistatic". Which meant that more likely than not, the screen was full of very slowly moving lines whose color changed from time to time. Actually, that was my favourite part of the film, even though it doesn't sound so great. But it was.

At the end of the performance, there was much applauding, and one person lowing very loudly. At the post-coital chat with Atom Egoyan and Glass, Egoyan quipped that the lone booer was booing him and not Glass. Whatever. I want to see art that provokes a reaction -- good or bad. And if someone else wants to express how little they enjoyed it, then I support them, as long as it doesn't interfere with those who might actually be enjoying it. Glass and Egoyan were seated at a head table in the lobby and had a little interview in which Atom asked some questions, and Phillip gave some replies. Things happened, and you didn't really understand it all, but it sounded pretty good.

A final note on the evening: even though the opera itself was only 73 minutes long, and the chat was no more than an hour, and we left the hall no later than 10:30 p.m., I was just dead tired. I know that doesn't sound so great.