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Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg's Hydrogen Jukebox Comes to Nashville

Nashville Opera’s Hydrogen Jukebox unites the voices of two iconic artists.

Written By:  Jennifer Farrar

Photographers:  Supplied

It might be 25 years old, but Hydrogen Jukebox still feels relevant. Centered on the social and economic issues that America faced from the 1950s through the ’80s, the piece addresses rock ’n’ roll, drug use, the anti-war movement, religion, sex, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. This month, the Nashville Opera is bringing the musical production to the Noah Liff Opera Center.

Hydrogen Jukebox is a collaboration between composer Philip Glass and poet Allen Ginsberg, who met by chance in a New York City bookstore. Ginsberg pointed out a poem he had written, and Glass composed a piano piece to accompany it. In his composition notes, Glass wrote: “I so thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration that we soon began talking about expanding our performance into an evening-length, music-theater work. I remember saying to Allen, ‘If these guys aren’t going to talk about the issues then we should.’”

Hydrogen Jukebox is about us—it’s about our country’s voyage,” says John Hoomes, CEO and artistic director of the Nashville Opera. “It’s a meditation on where we are now, where we’re going, and a look back over where we’ve been,” he says. Because Nashville Opera is a producing company, says Hoomes, the production will be entirely homegrown.

“We are the only arts group in Nashville that is able to produce and then program such a piece,” he adds. “This will probably be the only chance our audience will have to experience this brilliant masterwork by two major American artists.”

After each of the three performances, the cast will host a “talk back,” which is a discussion with the audience during which both parties can review how the performance made them feel—a point that speaks to the very origins of the piece.

“The opera is about learning from the pitfalls of history in order to create a better future,” Hoomes says.

November 13 to 15, Noah Liff Opera Center, 3622 Redmon St., 615-832-5242; nashvilleopera.org

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