Akhnaten in Met-HD

Do you long to escape the transience and hurly-burly of everyday life? We all do. Such longing infuses our lives from the church we attend to the shows we watch to the music we enjoy.

Few people achieve such transcendence. One who did became the subject for composer Philip Glass‘ 1983 opera, Akhnaten. As performed by the Metropolitan Opera Company and seen live through their Met: Live in HD series, the premiere epitomized the ecstasy of becoming a god (or like one) and the pitfall of achieving such transcendence.

Though known as a minimalist composer, Glass pulls all the stops in composer Richard Wagner‘s chromatic repertoire to create a full-fleshed depiction of Akhnaten’s ecstatic rise and fall. Glass’ characteristic blending of mid-range arpeggios and modulations, however, serve to make his music drama more a hypnotic contemplation on the transformative power of religious belief than an emotional tour de force.

All the vast resources of the Met Opera work to make this change a reality for the audience. Conductor Karen Kamansek’s love for Glass’ music helps weave a magic spell over the audience. The efforts of Phelim McDermott’s production team from Kevin Pollard’s opulent costumes to Sean Gandini‘s juggling choreography underscore the rise and fall of the pharoah’s character arc. And singers J’Nai Bridges (Nefertiti), Disella Larusdottir (Queen Tye) and, in particular, Aaron Blake (High Priest of Amon) and Anthony Roth Costanzo (Akhnaten) give splendid embodiments of their characters and the music which describes them.

In sum, this production of Akhnaten is an intellectual music masterpiece. While Glass’ stately cadences (like Wagner on steroids) are hypnotic to the point of somnolence (I nodded off several times), they, with all the other elements in this music drama, illustrate how an entire society finds meaning, immortality, and dissolution serving an absolute ruler who attempts to unite his transcendence of reality with the all too transient world we mortals inhabit.

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