Before discovering 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi for his 1998 multimedia opera Monsters of Grace, composer Philip Glass had the slightly more intelligible 20th century yippie mystic Allen Ginsberg as his muse. Ginsberg is the only person who could have a grounding effect on Glass: While Glass’ stage productions typically contain no plot, no narrative structure, and no intermission for upward of five hours, on Hydrogen Jukebox, he actually tells a story. The 1990 opera takes its name from a verse in Ginsberg’s landmark 1955 poem Howl and covers the succeeding decades in U.S. history. Its characters, a collection of American archetypes (a mechanic, a businessman, a priest, a police officer, and a cheerleader) cycle through 21 Ginsberg poems set to music, from folk to jazz and beyond. Through their eyes, Ginsberg reflects on the country and the era: one that brought us napalm, stagflation, and ketchup-as-a-vegetable but also the uplift of the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution and, lest we forget, the drugs. Seeing the American Opera Theater lead a Georgetown student chorus in such pieces as “From NSA Dope Calypso” is certainly a novelty, though not nearly as much as a comprehensible composition by Philip Glass.
THE PERFORMANCE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. AT THE GONDA THEATRE OF GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY’S DAVIS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 37TH and O STREETS NW. $25. (202) 687-2787.