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The Five-Minute MFA: Hydrogen Jukebox

Adam L. Brinkow | July 17, 2014 | Lifestyle Story Culture

This month, Berkeley’s West Edge Opera stages Hydrogen Jukebox, an ethereal chamber opera by composer Philip Glass and poet Allen Ginsberg. If your last brush with bohemian was On the Road with Kristen Stewart, then consider these talking points for illuminated conversation with fellow theatergoers. July 27–Aug. 8

“These verses are a great example of how the Clash influenced Ginsberg’s later career.”
Toward the end of his life, Ginsberg favored punk rock—he even launched a punk fanzine, Search & Destroy. Jukebox includes some rarely referenced poems.

“It’s interesting to see Glass break form to accommodate the poetry.”
Glass’s compositions are known for repeating themselves, but Jukebox shakes things up because Glass had to write around lyrics; for example, notice how the score “trembles” to suggest the limp of an old woman in “To Aunt Rose.”

“It was all meant to be a comment on late-’80s politics, but what amazes me most is how topically relevant it remains today.”
Environmental disasters, tensions with Russia, and the abuse of presidential power are all covered in the 1988 opera. So if all else fails, at least you can talk current politics.

Originally published in thethe July issue of San Francisco.

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