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Knight Foundation

Inside Einstein on the Beach: Guest Blog by Lindsay Kesselman

Posted: 1/8/12 -- 8:54 am

19

avatar by Lindsay Kesselman

Editor’s Note: Lindsay Kesselman will sing with the Phillip Glass Ensemble for the duration of the 2012-2013 international tour of Einstein on the Beach. She’ll also be guest blogging on umsLOBBY. Einstein on the Beach is part of Pure Michigan Renegade.

For those of us in the chorus, the anticipation has been building for six months.  Six months of waiting, imagining, preparing, and eagerly counting down.  Now, on December 27th, it is crazy to think that the anticipation is over and we are already  completely immersed in Einstein, having just finished three weeks of rehearsal in New York.

For so long, this project existed on a distant horizon, one it seemed we would never reach….for months now friends near and far have been asking, “So…how’s Einstein going?” …eager for details about the music, the people, the challenges, and I have had to respond, “Oh…actually, we haven’t started yet.”  Now, and in the blink of an eye, we are well underway, having learned all of the music, all of the original staging, and even having begun to memorize much of the material.  Where did the time go?

The last three weeks are a blur of long, satisfying days, approximately 90 hours of rehearsal, of becoming familiar with and beginning to master our music, learning to move in completely foreign and fascinating ways, and finally: being able to imagine what it will feel like to sing this show from start to finish.

To say that it is a challenge is a HUGE understatement.  The piece makes physical, vocal, and mental demands which are completely unique and which are definitely creating new standards for us as artists, performers, and people.  We sing faster, more continuously, and more rhythmically than we ever have before, all while moving in incredibly intricate, stylized, and intentional ways, and the mental focus we need to maintain for four-and-a-half hours (the duration of the performance) is truly staggering. Every night in New York we left rehearsal feeling drained, mentally and physically, without an ounce more energy to give.  And…it felt fantastic.

There are a few singers in the chorus, as well as instrumentalists, stage managers, and sound specialists, who were part of the 1992 tour (and earlier productions) of this piece.  Throughout our rehearsals, these members of the chorus shared memories with us about their past Einstein life (or lives).  From spending hours in rehearsal holding uncomfortable positions while Robert Wilson got the lighting just right, to audiences cheering in Japan and throwing tomatoes in Barcelona, we heard countless stories and began to understand the enormity of this piece re-constructed now, and what a huge impact this experience will have on all of our lives.

The first day that Dan, our front-of-house mixer, sat in on rehearsals with us, he was moved to tears while hearing this music again after such a long absence.  Our producers from Pomegranate Arts came to rehearsal regularly after long days at the office where they had been working on all of the many details for our tour, just to bask in the singing, the dance, the acting. They have been dreaming of this revival for the last 12 years, and FINALLY it is coming to fruition. Seeing these reactions, we felt even more determination to do this piece justice.  For Dan, for Pomegranate Arts, for Lucinda, Robert, and Philip, for all of the people who have loved this piece for a long time, and for those lucky new fans who will be intrigued for the first time.

It is a huge responsibility, and one we are taking very seriously.  All of us, singers, dancers, and actors alike, are pushing ourselves to the limit.  Even when our directors are satisfied and pleased with our progress for the day, we keep pushing, insisting we can do better- sing more perfectly in tune, make rhythmic changes more seamlessly, and memorize more quickly.

I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such warm, friendly, diligent, fun-loving and extraordinarily talented group of people.  We are having a blast and becoming a family, and it will be a privilege to spend the next year and a half traveling the world and singing this piece with them.  Next stop: Ann Arbor, where we will meet Robert Wilson, rehearse for 3 more weeks in the Power Center, and bring Einstein on the Beach to the Midwest!

Have a question for Lindsay, or curious about something to do with Einstein on the Beach? Use the hashtag #askeinstein on Twitter or comment below.

Lindsay Kesselman is an emerging American soprano, who passionately advocates for contemporary music in America, actively commissioning and collaborating with a diverse array of composers. In 2011 she performed Joseph Schwantner's "Sparrows," as well as premieres by Kieren MacMillan, with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. Upcoming performances include a recital tour of Abbie Betinis’ song cycle “Nattsanger” to universities in Texas and Oklahoma, the music of Michael Ippolito in recital at the Greenwich House in New York, and several compositions by Amy Kirsten at Roosevelt University in Chicago with members of eighth blackbird and Third Coast Percussion. Kesselman holds degrees in voice performance from Michigan State University and Rice University.

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  • Hi Lindsay! It’s so wonderful to welcome you back home to rehearse and perform this path-finding work! I’m interested in knowing how your experience in Einstein so far compares to rehearsing a more traditional work in the operatic repertory. In Aida, you’d build your performance from text, character, and plot; In Einstein, do you have any of these guides to your realization? Do you have any insight into what it means or even just how Einstein on the Beach conveys meaning to its audience?

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      Thanks, Mark! The cast arrived today, and I am so excited to welcome them here to Ann Arbor for the start of our rehearsals tomorrow! To answer your question, there are some similarities, as every operatic role requires a great deal of physical and mental energy, which must be practiced and developed over time, but in many ways, my preparation for Einstein has been completely unique from other operatic experiences. We don’t have specific characters or plot lines from which to draw, but the styles of music and movement we embody in this piece are so distinctive and powerful, I think they provide the foundation for both our understanding and our interpretation. Robert Wilsons’ direction focuses our attention on small details, making each significant, and thus requiring us to imbue every gesture, no matter how large or small, with great intention and purpose. This level of focus is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Also, Glass’ music demands total rhythmic precision, pitch control, and sometimes super-human stamina from us as a chorus, so we are learning to stretch our abilities in these areas! As for what this opera “means,” I think the beauty of it is that it will mean different things to different people. This piece, in all its many details, is a symbolic representation of Albert Einstein, so I think every member of the audience will bring his/her own knowledge base to the performance, be immersed in the wonderfully distinct images, sounds, and ideas presented, and then draw individual conclusions about the man, his life, and his contributions. In this way, the audience actually interacts with the opera, which is one of the reasons it is such an exciting and dynamic performance experience!

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      • Thanks Lindsay. That’s really helpful. I’ve been reading about Wilson’s movement exercises. You may already be swamped with rehearsals, but if you have a chance to reply — here’s a followup question: Can you describe a particular gesture you do in the opera and how you perform it with “great intention and purpose”?

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          Hi Mark! We had our first day of rehearsal yesterday- 12 hours of sound checks, costuming, and familiarizing ourselves with the Power Center. All is going very well, and we are ready for more today! Probably the best example of a gesture from the opera is the way we walk whenever we move on stage. It’s called the “Einstein Walk” and is based closely on a historical photograph of Albert Einstein in his study. Our arms are curved out from our bodies slightly with space underneath them, our hands are in loose fists right by our sides, and we walk, heads raised, but eyes lowered, very slowly, carefully, and with total awareness of how we transfer our weight from the heels to the balls of our feet until we reach our destination. Audiences will see this walk in many scenes of the opera, and will hopefully recognize a bit of Einstein in it!

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    Will this be coming to the Southwest?

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    Hope to see you all at BAM

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  • Many thanks for your comments Lindsay. I have seen Einstein in Paris, in 1976. I consider Einstein on the Beach as the most important work of the twentieth century. I am so looking forward to seeing you on March 17 in Montpellier !
    Good luck to you before then.

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  • avatar

    I’m sorry that we can’t stay to see you in this – it sounds memorable! We did get to see Christopher last light in Ann Arbor – while you were rehearsing – but we truly hope you have a GREAT time performing over the next 1-1/2 years. Hope to see you soon and we’ll keep up with your travels/progress! All the best from North Carolina…

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    I’ve been looking forward to seeing this for a long long time. Got my tickets for the Saturday night show in Ann Arbor. Working with Robert Wilson must be mind blowing.
    Can’t wait for the show.

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  • avatar

    Hi Lindsay, and welcome home! I’m encouraging all of my composition students from Wayne State to come to the show. I can only imagine how many emotions must be running around you right now — but knowing how focused you are, it will all come round right. I’m so glad the opportunity for more people to hear you sing is finally materialising!

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