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To Glass, L.A.'s <i> the</i> Place

Just as Rossini, Verdi and Puccini did in their respective eras, operatic composers of the 20th Century equate success with where it is achieved.

Philip Glass, for instance, talked very seriously, during an hourlong meeting between planes--he was coming from Australia and going to San Francisco--about “making it” in Los Angeles. He wants L.A. to experience his latest music-theater piece, “1000 Airplanes on the Roof,” simply because L.A. has not had the chance to hear his operas before.

“L.A. and New York--isn’t that it? Isn’t that where we have to do it, to be taken seriously?”

“1000 Airplanes,” the composer acknowledged, is “the first staged piece of mine to get to L.A. There were a lot of reasons for that, one of them being that I have finally written a work that could travel and go to a number of different places. It was not practical before.”

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The present tour of the Philip Glass Ensemble--traveling without the composer, who is now in Europe, writing his next operas--will reach 35 North American cities by Dec. 12.

The composer, however, will attend the Los Angeles opening, Monday at the Wadsworth Theater. Glass and Jerome Sirlin, the production designer, will discuss their work with the audience after the performance.

Glass said that the new work, already heard and seen in Vienna, Berlin and Australia, “is actually a music-theater piece in which I inadvertently rediscovered the melodrame " (a hybrid musical form from the 19th Century, in which the spoken word is accompanied by music).

“The Fall of the House of Usher,” Glass’ chamber opera introduced early this year, “was all sung,” Glass said. “ ‘The Making of the Representative of Planet 8,’ was one-third spoken. But ‘1000 Airplanes’ is entirely spoken.

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“Still, it’s not a play with music, but, as in a film score, a theater-piece in which the music at one moment is in the background, then the next moment is in the foreground. Music becomes an envelope in which the drama takes place.”

Unlike some other of his works--works he does not care to name--this one was the occasion of “a very happy collaboration (with playwright David Henry Hwang) . . . that remained relatively effortless, except for the problems involved in the high-tech production.”

The most an opera composer can hope for, Glass said, is “a good response the first time, later a revival. Then, new productions over the years. After that, if one is lucky, the work takes hold. But, hey, I’m not kidding myself. The longest shot in the world for a composer is to write a repertory opera.”


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