Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed Speak at Occupy Lincoln Center
The human microphone resonated loudly outside of Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House last Thursday night. 31 years after its premiere in Rotterdam, one of the finest American operas, Philip Glass’ epic Satyagraha, finally had its Metropolitan Opera debut last month. Thursday night was its final performance. Composer Glass had been asked by Occupy Lincoln Center and Occupy Opera to address hundreds of demonstrators outside the house. He agreed.
Between the final curtain of the opera and Glass’ speech, NYPD barricades were erected between opera goers and demonstrators. People upstairs at the Met could see the hundreds of demonstrators and police outside through the building’s windows.
Writing at The Awl, Seth Colter Walls, who was there, described the scene, comparing the police scenes in the opera itself to those outside:
At one juncture, the shadows of acrobats who are miming, in slow motion, the violence of police against Civil Rights protestors are visible through windows scrimmed with newspapers. Meantime, projections of documentary videos showing similar truth-forces play around the borders of those same windows. When the shock troops break the historical fourth wall, slicing the newspapers into ribbons as they move from the deep American south into the forward-stage world of Gandhi’s compatriots, the viewer’s response may be to object on the basis of some temporal-spacial order. Police can’t just do that, can they? They can’t magically cross continents and decades in order to tamp down any social movement they choose, right?
The constricts that power itself is obliged to observe are actually amorphous, at least from the outside; it’s hard to know exactly where they really lie, or when, or to what degree, they may ever be changing. This accounts not just for what we may now commonly describe as Kafkaesque machinations of legal systems, but also citizens’ wariness regarding nascent social movements. (Are they “really” doing something important? Are they “good” at whatever it is? Are they “likely” to succeed regarding issues “coherently” expressed?)
This is all part of power’s language. So, on Thursday night, were phrases like: “Exit down the ramp to the right,” which is what opera-goers heard from police trying to keep the Occupy movement cleanly separate from the people who had just watched Satyagraha. The blitheness with which these official police suggestions were ignored, or even taken as “suggestions,” was striking. So too, given the very recent history in Zuccotti Park, was the total lack of consequence suffered by those disobeying these directions. Wearing a suit—even a cheap one—has its privileges.
A few opera-goers assisted the front line of Occupy protesters in opening up a split between two barricades. A cop, hearing the unclanking kiss of the metal hooks, looked on somewhat confusedly as protestors elected not to simply swarm into the plaza. “This is dumb,” a young man told the cop. “We don’t need these separating us.” Then a couple reinforcements came to the solitary cop’s aide; before long the integrity of the barricade was restored.
Sean Murray, a doctoral student at CUNY, commented at Wall’s post, noting:
I attended the opera (on a $20 rush ticket) and exited after Glass appeared onstage and the applause had ended. When I got down to the plaza, the police were still not letting operagoers approach the barricade, and in fact I witnessed a man (not in a suit) get arrested for simply walking down the steps attempting to reach the OWS protesters (who I joined on the sidewalk). It was only after most people had left that the police allowed the two groups to meet.
Philip Glass showed up, and read the closing words from the opera, which are from the Bhagavad Gita:
When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.
Here he is:
Here is composer Laurie Anderson, shortly afterward:
And composer Lou Reed, who had earlier helped illegally move the barricades, to let people in. He declares “The police are OUR army:
Some blogs taking up this particular demonstration, observe that many demonstrators complained that opera has become inaccessible to the 99%. Although not quite true, opera houses, symphonic concert halls and many other fine arts venues are places designed to accommodate the very wealthy in special sections, boxes and private reception rooms within those spaces. The main patrons of these groups, and most of their board members truly represent the 1%, by and large. What used to be called The New York Theater at Lincoln Center is now called the David H. Koch Theater. Merchant of death David Rubenstein has his David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. Must be sweet. Every time somebody in a field in south Lebanon or Angola loses a leg to an old land mine or cluster bomb, it represents money this sweet-talking thug put into Lincoln Center.
I would like to see more artists involved in OWS in 2012 than has been the case this year. It is certainly true that a lot of artists are involved, but they are mostly popular artists, with only a sprinkling of personalities or top names from the fine arts.
The reality that among the first victims of funding cuts in education and government agencies are fine arts programs and classes, and that this has been going on for decades, hasn’t been covered as much as it should have been. Arts programs all over the country were the prototypes for moves designed to lower taxes on the 1%.