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Friday, March 08, 2019

Akhnaten at the London Coliseum @E_N_O #ENOAkhnaten ...

Last night Paul and I went to the English National Opera to see Philip Glass's Egyptian opera Akhnaten at the London Coliseum in London's glitzy West End.

Slow going, glittering production, sublime music, fabulous frocks.

The opera is based on the life and religious convictions of the pharaoh Akhnaten and is the third of a trilogy of biographical operas, the others being Einstein on the Beach (about Albert Einstein) and Satyagraha (about Mohandas Gandhi).

These three people — Akhnaten, Einstein and Gandhi — were all driven by an inner vision which altered the age in which they lived, in particular Akhnaten in religion, Einstein in science, and Gandhi in politics.

Unlike Glass's other two operas however Akhnaten is less hardcore minimalist than Einstein and less oratorio-like then Satyagraha. Akhnaten is perhaps more accessible for the Glass virgins.

The story concerns Akhnaten attempts to convert his kingdom to monotheism using Egyptian texts of the period such as a poem of Akhnaten himself, from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Act 1 concerns Year 1 of Akhnaten’s reign in Thebes, Act 2 covers years 5 to 15 in Thebes and Akhnaten, and Act 3 is about year 17, his death and the present day.

The music is of course sublime and is perfectly complimented by director Phelim McDermott's production. Once again he has stepped up to the plate as have designers Tom Pye (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes). The lighting, the shadows, the movement, the chorus, the jugglers all contribute to the wow factor.

The trio of protagonists, Anthony Roth Costanza as Akhnaten, Kate Stevenson as his wife Nefertiti and Rebecca Bottone as his mother Queen Tye, are all excellent. Costanza’s voice has matured wonderfully in the last three years since I last saw him take on the role from the rather shrill counter-tenor voice to a fuller, richer vocal instrument.

Though this production may not quite be the revelation that Satyagraha was (how could it?), it is still on its own terms an excellent piece of work, both theatrically and musically.

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