Sunday, March 13, 2016


OPERA: Akhnaten LONDON English National Opera 3/4/16 (George Hall, Opera News).
ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA has done well by Philip Glass. Back in 1985, ENO became the first U.K. company to stage one of his operas—Akhnaten, then just one year old. ENO followed up with the first European performance of The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 in 1988, Satyagraha in 2007, and the UK premiere of The Perfect American in 2013.

In return Glass has proved to be good box-office for ENO. ...


Akhnaten is a fine example of Glass’s most elevated operatic style in that it comprises more a sequence of rituals than a narrative in the traditional sense. In Tom Pye’s monumental, multi-level sets and Kevin Pollard’s gorgeously colorful and extravagantly complex costumes, each scene became sharply etched in the visual memory. Extra fascination was provided by the involvement of the ten-strong skills ensemble Gandini Juggling, whose director, Sean Gandini, choreographed its various complex routines, one of the most spectacular of which saw the audience applaud during the music itself—a rare event in any contemporary opera. (Juggling is apparently illustrated on the walls of some ancient Egyptian tombs.)

A libretto mainly sung in ancient Egyptian, ancient Hebrew and Akkadian (an extinct tongue long spoken in Mesopotamia) is clearly intended less for instant communication than for color and atmosphere, but the role of the Scribe—a character left out, incidentally, of ENO’s 1985 staging, but here taken with firmness and clarity by bass Zachary James—provided a useful narrative framework with his periodic Anglophone pronouncements.

A performance of Akhnaten (in Boston) was last noted here.