Adelaide sees a World First in Philip Glass Trilogy
State Opera of South Australia, which gave Australia its first fully staged Ring Cycle, blazes another trail with Philip Glass’s modern "portrait" opera trilogy. Peter Burdon spoke to artistic director Timothy Sexton.
In the years 1975 to 1983, the American composer Philip Glass composed three operas focused on men who changed the world. Albert Einstein, the man of science, Mahatma Ghandi, the man of politics, and the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhnaten, the man of religion. They have only rarely been performed as a cycle, and never in quite this way.
State Opera of South Australia artistic director Timothy Sexton explains: “In the 1990s I’d worked with choreographer Leigh Warren in operas by John Adams, and we realised then that we had a really good thing going, and I was keen to work with him again. We both also had a passion for Philip Glass’s music, and finally in 2004 we put on a staged production of Akhnaten, the first of the Portrait Trilogy, and over the next few years we did the rest. So all that remained was to present them as a trilogy.”
Sexton makes it sound easy, but that was far from the case. “Philip Glass keeps an amazingly tight control on his music,” he explains. “We discovered there was a clause in Einstein on the Beach that required Glass himself to be involved. So we negotiated with him and his management for a long time until they could trust that we were going to do the right thing, and when we eventually got permission, we found out that we were actually the first group ever to be allowed to perform it without Philip Glass being present and involved. We’ve kept him fully informed, and he’s been incredibly supportive. And when we proposed doing all three as a cycle, he gave his approval. It’ll be the first time that the Trilogy has been presented in this way.”
Sexton’s appointment in 2011 as artistic director of the State Opera inevitably had tongues wagging about how long he could wait to realise the dream of a complete cycle. “Of course I wanted to,” he says with a chuckle. “It was unfinished business. But it’s also a risky undertaking. I love Glass’s music, but I know that it’s confronting for many people, and you can’t embark on a project that’s going to cost a lot of money without thinking you can at least break even, and preferably make a profit. I hate that I have to worry more about this now! But then the stars aligned, and State Opera couldn’t get the Festival Theatre for the three slots we wanted in 2014, but Her Majesty’s was available, and it’s an excellent venue for this project, so we went from there.
“The Portrait Trilogy will be the biggest arts event in South Australia since the Ring Cycle. It’s employing a lot of South Australians, and it’ll attract visitors to Adelaide. The rehearsals are going incredibly well, and it’s sounding fantastic. It’ll be an unforgettable experience.”
[Images] The Philip Glass' Trilogy
The Philip Glass Trilogy is on at Her Majesty’s Theatre Adelaide from August 5 to 23, 2014. Tickets for the cycles or individual operas are available. Book at Bass.