Not unlike the building of the great pyramids, the opening of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten has undoubtedly been a massive undertaking. Her Majesty’s Theatre saw the biggest single artistic endeavour by State Opera SA since the 2004 Ring Cycle.
Timothy Sexton conducted the Adelaide Art Orchestra for the first in a series of three portrait operas by Glass about men who changed the world. This is a Glass-a-thon not for the feint-hearted. For those with an eye for the theatrical, and an ear for some of the 20th century’s most interesting operas, this is undoubtedly an experience worth waiting ten years for.
Akhnaten, a modern operatic classic in three acts (presented here in two parts), tells of the crowning of new King Amenhotep IV (Pharaoh Akhnaten) in 1353 BC, Egypt. He chooses to worship only one god, the sun-god Aten, and in doing so abolishes the Amon traditions of his father and deposes the priests. His proposal that his people adopt his monotheism does not meet with favour, and, with his devoted wife Nefertiti by his side, they becomes the focus of an overthrow.
Despite countertenor Tobias Cole as Akhnaten not singing a note for the first 35 minutes, when he did, he all but stole the show. The juxtaposed timbres when he teamed with Nefertiti, mezzo soprano Cherie Boogaart, and Queen Tye, soprano Deborah Caddy, achieved a fascinating effect; haunting, and hypnotic.
Director and Choreographer Leigh Warren’s daring vision to depict the leads as corporate characters, mixed modern with ancient and added yet another layer of interest. His dancers also leant much to the production; the passionate love scene a highlight amongst some well-considered precision ritualistic and reverential movements that seemed to channel the ancient Egyptians themselves.
The State Opera Chorus’ fabulous singing made up for the occasional awkward movement, which stood out only due to them sharing a stage with professional dancers.
Set and Costume Designer Mary Moore cleverly used aspects of the eye of Horus, the Ankh, and the Nile River Delta to convey aspects of ancient Egypt. Perspex-topped open tombs-cum-platforms used as mini-stages contrasted artefacts, metallic hues, and the shoeless chorus in ivory robes. Scrolls, artefacts, manuscripts, and a “library of dead ideas” were also used to great effect.
Lighting Designer Geoff Cobham realised the importance of the white light of the Aten to Akhnaten, and his precise spotlights heightened the drama and integrated so well with the set as to cause me a few double takes.
Akhnaten is a slowly unfolding journey through fascinating worlds. See this as part of the 2014 Philip Glass Trilogy. Yes, you should bring your mummy.
5 August Akhnaten 7.30pm
7 August Einstein on the Beach 5pm
9 August Satyagraha 7.30pm
12 August Akhnaten 7.30pm
14 August Einstein on the Beach 5pm
16 August 2014 Satyagraha 7.30pm
19 August Akhnaten 7.30pm
21 August Einstein on the Beach 5pm
23 August Satyagraha 7.30pm
Reviewed by Emily Morris
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Season: Akhnaten – 5, 12, 19 August 2014
Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes (including 20 minute interval)
Tickets: $25 – $135
Bookings: Book online through the BASS website or phone 131 246