Robert Wilson

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Wilson, Robert

Wilson, Robert, notable American theater director, stage designer, and dramatist; b. Waco, Tex., Oct. 4, 1941. After training at the Univ. of Tex. (1959-65), he took his B.RA. in architecture at the Pratt Inst. in N.Y. In 1969 he began his career as a dramatist. His collaboration with Philip Glass on Einstein on the Beach (Avignon Festival and the Metropolitan Opera, N.Y., 1976) brought him wide recognition, and he subsequently collaborated with Gavin Bryars on Medea (Lyons, 1984) and with Glass on portions of The Civil Wars (1984-87). His later work has been seen to best advantage in Médée by Charpentier (Lyons, 1984), Salome (Milan, 1987), Alceste (Chicago, 1990), Die Zauberflöte (Paris, 1991), Madama Butterfly (Stuttgart, 1993), and Prometeo by Nono (Brussels, 1997). He also created the pop opera trilogy, a “reinvention of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine,” that includes The Black Rider (1993; music by Tom Waits), Alice (1995; music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan), and Time Rocker (1996; music by Lou Reed). In 1997 he produced Gertrude Stein’s Saints and Singing at the Hebbel Theater in Berlin, and in 1998 the Berliner Ensemble presented his production of Bertolt Brecht’s Oceanflight. In 1998 he also mounted his first production, Lohengrin, with the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. On July 7, 1999, his The Days Before Death Destruction & Detroit III, to a libretto after Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before, with music by Ryuichi Sakamoto (founder of the techno-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra [YMO] and winner of an Academy Award for his film score for The Last Emperor), was given its first perf. in N.Y. Wilson has been engaged for the Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festival in 2000. His provocative productions have elicited great interest and much controversy. He is an acknowledged master of mixed-media forms.


L. Shyer, R. W. and His Collaborators (NY., 1990).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Robert Wilson, 1941–, dramatist, director, and designer, b. Waco, Tex. He began his arts career as a painter. A leading figure in postmodern theater since 1963, when he arrived in New York City, he has created lengthy, often controversial multimedia events that combine drama, dance, and stylized gesture with contemporary instrumental music, opera, and art. Extending the tradition of surrealism, exploring the theatrical parameters of time and space, and usually created in collaboration with other artists, his theater art pieces frequently include visually dazzling tableaux and stylized presentations of text or song.

Wilson's works include the 12-hour Life and Times of Joseph Stalin (1973); the five-hour Einstein on the Beach (1976, rev. 1984), a collaboration with Philip Glass and his best-known work; the day-long Civil Wars (1984), with Glass, David Byrne, and others; 1990s operatic extravaganzas (again with Glass), including White Raven and The Palace of the Arabian Nights; The Days Before: Death, Destruction, and Detroit III (1999), a collaborative multimedia meditation on the Apocalypse; and I La Galigo (2004), a three-and-a-half-hour adaptation of an ancient Indonesian epic. Working in Europe and the United States, Wilson has been a phenomenally prolific director, mounting brilliantly strange productions of various classics, including Wagner's Parsifal, Büchner's Danton's Death, Shakespeare's King Lear, and La Fontaine's Fables.

See C. Nelson, ed., Robert Wilson, The Theater of Images (1984); L. Shyer, Robert Wilson and His Collaborators (1989); A. Holmberg, The Theatre of Robert Wilson (1996); K. Otto-Bernstein, dir., Absolute Wilson (documentary film, 2006).

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Wilson, Robert (b Waco, Texas, 1941). Amer. director, playwright, and designer. Collab. and designer of Glass's Einstein on the Beach (Avignon 1974, NY Met 1976). Designed Charpentier's Médée (Lyons 1984) and sections of Glass's The Civil WarS, which he wrote with Glass and Bryars (1984, 1985, 1987, Rome and NY). Also designed Salome (La Scala 1987). Prod. Die Zauberflöte (Paris Bastille 1991) and Madama Butterfly (Paris Bastille 1993). Work is often highly controversial and on an epic scale.