HYDROGEN JUKEBOX pairs the visionary work of beat-poet Allen Ginsberg with the music of Philip Glass, one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century. Covering a plethora of issues and themes from the anti-war movement, to the sexual revolution, drugs, eastern philosophy and environmental issues, this musical portrait of America at the end of the 20th century is as current today as it was counter-cultural when Ginsberg’s poetry was written.
TICKETS: www.tricitiesopera.com/hydrogenjukebox1617 or 607 772 0400
More than any other other poet of the 20th century, Allen Ginsberg embodied a belief that the personal is poetic and political. In 1988, Ginsberg ran into Philip Glass in an East Village bookstore and the composer immediately invited the legendary poet to perform with him. They began with a musical setting of Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” later expanding their collaboration into a full-scale music-theatre work, a piece that they called a “‘song’ opera.” The original production of Hydrogen Jukebox was staged as a portrait of America – the six singers were cast as archetypes of the American experience: a waitress, policeman, businessman, cheerleader, priest, and mechanic.
In the spirit of Ginserg’s precursor Walt Whitman (“I celebrate myself, and sing myself/…For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”), this production of Hydrogen Jukebox is inspired by the idea that a portrait the poet himself serves as an allegory for America. Born in 1926 in Newark, NJ, Ginsberg lived through many of the climactic events of the 20th century, travelled extensively, and created a body of work rich in its exploration of both his external context (the antiwar movement, the sexual revolution, environmental issues) and his own interior landscape (explored through drugs and Eastern philosophy).
In his recent memoir, Words without Music, Glass describes his friendship with the literary giant and includes an anecdotal elegy of Ginsberg’s last days in 1997. After returning from a stint in the hospital, the poet spent two days in a coma in his East Village apartment before succumbing to complications from hepatitis and liver cancer:
“Allen’s loft was filling up with friends. His bed was placed almost in the center of the room near his Buddhist altar. He was still alive, but in a coma. On Wednesday night, the [Buddhist] monks slept in a row on my parlor room floor… More and more people were coming but mostly people who knew him well…”
In fact, filmmaker Jonas Mekas captured these last hours of Ginsberg’s life with remarkable intimacy in the documentary Allen’s Last Three Days on Earth as a Spirit. Our unique staging of Hydrogen Jukebox re-imagines the opera within this context, placing the action in Ginsberg’s own apartment – here, we see the poet surrounded by his friends and loved ones, his personal effects, his work, and his memories as he encounters the sacred and the profane, experiencing fear and joy, and ultimately penetrating the thin veil between life and death.
– Alison Moritz, Director