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A 'Hydrogen Jukebox' Draws Together a Pair of Neighbors : Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg collaborate on opera based on 1966 anti-war work


Commissioned jointly by the Spoleto Festival USA and the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia (where it was given in a concert version last month to generally enthusiastic reviews), the new work will be performed in Charleston eight times, Saturday through June 3.

The performing company remains the same in both Charleston and Italy. The singers are Darynn Zimmer, Suzan Hansen, Linda Thompson, Richard Fracker, Thomas Potter and James Butler.

Reached in Charleston on Tuesday--the first day of rehearsals--Potter said this opera "seems to be" a departure in Glass' style.

"There is not as much repetition as we associate with Glass' writing," Potter said, mentioning the long, repeated passages in "Satyagraha" and other Glass works for the musical theater. "Some people have said this is a new direction in Glass' development.

"This piece, which is not so much an opera as a staged song-cycle, is rather straightforward.

"Some of the songs follow directly, and suddenly, on each other, but there is no narrative connection--though Ginsberg is well-known for his descriptions and the autobiographical nature of his poems.

"The composer has set the words in a natural cadence. It's not hard to memorize, because it's in English--I don't envy the singers who had to memorize Sanskrit (in "Satyagraha").

"And Ginsberg's words are atmospheric, almost impressionistic. He can make you feel things, like the smell in the air. At the Philadelphia performances, we were thrilled when people told us they could understand our words."

Altogether, Glass says, compared to some other of his works, "this opera has been a breeze to create. Sometimes it's that way and sometimes it's not.

"And there is no correlation between how easy the piece comes and how good it is. I've had it both ways. But this one was really effortless."


Following are a few selected poems from the libretto to "Hydrogen Jukebox." Howl

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up

their brains and imagination?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Chil-

dren screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old

men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Mo-

loch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jail-

house and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running

money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast

is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrap-

ers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose

factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and

antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity

and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch

whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the


Nagasaki Days (part VI)

2,000,000 killed in Vietnam

13,000,000 refugees in Indochina 1972

200,000,000 years for the Galaxy to revolve on its core

24,000 the Babylonian Great Year

24,000 half life of plutonium

2,000 the most I ever got for a poetry reading

20,000 dolphins killed in the dragnet

4,000,000,000 years earth been born

Wichita Vortex Sutra (excerpt)

I'm an old man now, and a lonesome man in Kansas

but not afraid

to speak my lonesomeness in a car,

because not only my lonesomeness

it's Ours, all over America

O tender fellows--

& spoken lonesomeness is Prophecy

in the moon 100 years ago or in

the middle of Kansas now.

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