Robert Wilson / Philip Glass, Monsters of Grace

Review in Issue 10-2 | Summer 1998

Monsters of Grace is dubbed an opera for the twenty-first century. A concept to be embraced with fervour, or trepidation, depending on your standpoint. The piece is comprised of thirteen scenes, alternating between live performance and three-dimensional, computer generated images projected onto a large screen for which the audience don 3D spectacles. All accompanied by the compelling compositions of Philip Glass.

The live performance exemplifies Wilson’s skill at presenting striking images, with no literal connections or narrative links. The dramatic back lighting illuminates random objects, in an otherwise empty space. The actors move stylistically and in slow motion. However, the odd wobble and flicker of uncertainty over their faces detracts rather from the control of these minimalist scenarios. The impressive 3D images are a similarly diverse collection: including a bird flying, mountain ranges, a hand severed by a scalpel, the Great Wall of China, and, after some scrutiny, what transpired to be the posterior of a polar bear. The coldness of these abstract and high-tech images is somewhat thawed by the haunting music of Philip Glass, played live by his ensemble, with a fluid, almost hypnotic quality. Glass’ settings of lyrics by Jalaluddin Rumi, a Thirteenth Century Sufi poet, are performed by a quartet of singers.

This multimedia collaboration is an innovative challenge to live performance and opera. However, I could sympathise with the woman who leant over to me during the applause, and confessed, ‘I don’t know what that was about, but I liked the music.’

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. May 1998

This article in the magazine

Issue 10-2
p. 23