And so 1000 Airplanes on the Roof is quite possibly a story of alien abduction, but is also rather vividly the story of one man's loss of potential. At a few points, the three creative forces join together in a powerful way. But not often enough, and despite (unevenly) great contributions on the parts of Hwang and Sirlin, the music drama cannot stand on its own due to Glass' lackluster music. This is one of those artsy projects that I cheer for as a matter of principle. Too bad that the reality in this case did not live up to my expectations.
1000 Airplanes on the Roof is one of the lesser Philip Glass creations. Compared to such weighty masterpieces as Einstein on the Beach or Satyagraha (or even my recent favourite, Civil Wars), this music drama is insignificant and worthless, with music that would make critics of Glass' work in general shudder with horror. But there are several reasons why the production of 1000 Airplanes on the Roof might have been at least mildly interesting. This is an alien abduction story, but without the pulp or paranoia elements that we have come to expect. Rather, the main focus of the story is one man's psychological disintegration, likely due to abduction but quite possibly something else entirely. So the narrative itself is somewhat against the grain of expectation, even if the music does not match up to it. What's more, a live production of 1000 Airplanes on the Roof would be accompanied by gorgeous visuals designed by Philip Sirlin. The book from Peregrine Smith is the most lavishly illustrated libretto I've ever seen -- it's of the astounding size of approximately 45 cm by 25 cm, which is much taller than the typical coffee table book. The text by Hwang is dwarfed by full-color photographs on every page.
Premiered in 1988 in Vienna Airport’s Hangar No 3, 1000 Airplanes on the Roof combines a dramatic text with hypnotic music. Described by its cult American composer Philip Glass as “a science fiction music drama”, this unique production will visit the Concorde Hangar at the National Museum of Flight in East Fortune, Woodend Barn in Banchory, and the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
1000 AIRPLANES ON THE ROOF was a multi-media drama scripted by David Henry Hwang, designed by Jerome Sirlin and scored by Philip Glass. It’s been described as “part Freud, part Kafka and part Steven Spielberg,” being a deeply hallucinatory, psychologically centered account of an (apparent) alien invasion. Having seen it performed twice at L.A.’s Wadsworth Theater back in October of 1988, I can report that the show was a remarkable, mind-bending experience that, with its rollicking electronic score, ingeniously designed holographic scenery and artfully drafted script, showcased its three creators at the top of their respective forms.