I saw the 2000 Boston Lyric Opera production of Akhnaten and loved it. So we eagerly anticipated this opera at the Met. In view of some recent new stagings — Traviata, Samson, to name a couple, underwhelming to say the least — we didn’t know what to expect.
We attended the HD transmission on Saturday, Nov. 23. (I also went to to the encore on Dec. 4. I even looked into taking a quick trip to NYC for a live performance but they were all sold out.)
The visuals, the stage action, the sets, the costumes, and of course the voices and orchestra, all blended into a kind of lavish extravaganza of constant motion. We were skeptical about the jugglers — seriously? But they were perfect. The “skills ensemble” as they are listed on the program, propelled the opera through the acts making the whole …… The music is so driving, the repetitive actions of the juggling figures complemented the flow. Now I’m thinking more operas should have jugglers, or maybe just the Egyptian ones — Aida, Thais??
The sets were fairly simple: a staircase (that looks to make a repeat appearance in Agrippina), a huge hanging disk that shifts color throughout.
Costumes were another matter — some way over the top, like the doll’s head gown that Akhnaten wears, some were downright austere, like the flowy robes worn by the emperor and his consort, devoid of any accessories, manage to fill the stage with red.
The central figure of Akhnaten is a man overcome with religious zeal, a down-home family guy, who is however clueless about his people. As a countertenor, the male role is in a higher range than his mezzo-soprano wife, Nefertiti. The other main characters are Queen Tye, Ahknaten’s mother and Akhnaten’s dead father who acts a a sort of stage manager, à la Our Town, telling us what’s happening.
Glass is described at “minimalist.” I don’t know how that translates to what we saw on the screen, but Akhnaten doesn’t sound like any other opera I’m familiar with. Tosca it is not. On the other hand, I’m not sure this is the future of opera. I’d read somewhere that Akh is already out-of-date. As a music drama, I can’t see many others following this example. The repetitive music, the abstract characterizations set up a distance, from the audience so that there was a lack of emotion throughout. The set of daughters wore identical blue wigs and white gowns, and they are just tha, a set, no individual personalities.
- Zachary James is our new bass-barihiunk.
- We knew that the nudie tableau of the emperor descending the staircase was going to be sanitized for the HD audience. If they hadn’t dressed him in tidy-whities it might have been more effective as a scene rather than a protest.
- Joyce DiDonato hosted for the HD movie. She was wonderful and we all love her.
- Backstage at intermission, we watched jugglers hanging around, tossing multiple balls in the air as you and I would fiddle with our coat buttons.
- Akhnaten: Anthony Roth Costanzo
- Queen Tye: Akhnaten’s mother: Dísella Lárusdóttir
- Nefertiti, Akhnaten’s wife: J’Nai Bridges
- Amenhotep III: Zachary James DEBUT
- Conductor: Karen Kamensek DEBUT
- Production: Phelim McDermott
- Set and Projection Designer: Tom Pye
- Costume Designer: Kevin Pollard
- Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet
- Choreographer: Sean Gandini
Might I add here how disgusted I am at our local PBS station WGBH for not broadcasting the Great Performances show of this opera. To date (29 April 2020) I have seen no notice of its being shown on WGBH or WGBX.