Home
|
Current Issue
|
Diary
|
Subscribe
|
Book Orders
Rising Stars
|
Selected Reviews
|
Stop Press
|
Contact & Advertising
|
Links

Selected Review


Opera

Akhnaten at ENO

ENO1516 Akhanten - Clive Bayley, Anthony Roth Costanzo, James Cleverton, Colin Judson (c) Richard Hubert Smith

Glass’s third opera, the third of his biographies triptych, Akhnaten, came back to London on March 4, the first time it was on a UK stage since 1984; then as now at English National Opera. Like his second opera Satyagraha, unlike the first, Einstein on the Beach, there is a story of sorts, although some would call it more a series of scenes rather than an actual narrative. In short it is three acts with three scenes starting with the death of pharaoh Amenhotep III and the accession of his son to the throne as the titualar Akhnaten; his religious conversion to the worship of the sun as a god above all else (the aten of his name); and his total immersion in the new faith to the detriment of all including the state and its defence. Though I say in short, it’s actually not short at all at three hours.

As with quite a lot of Glass it could do with an edit or two as several arias and interludes start to outlive their welcome. The overture for instance is a solid 14 minutes with, here, projected hieroglyphs onto a gauze curtain and little else. The music, as befits a scholar of Indian ragas, is intricate, sometimes repetitive but always changing, gliding, mesmerising; sometimes an aural moiré of interlocking melody and rhythm. It takes concentration and memory to appreciate fully, like an Eliot poem harking back to a phrase ten stanzas before: you need to know ‘a’ to understand fully ‘b’ and so on.

I will warrant that there was not one part of the evening that was anything other than very slow. Not least, of course, as so little actually happens. It takes ten minutes to weigh the late pharaoh’s heart against a feather (the entry requirement to the afterlife) for instance. That said, the ‘action’ is never less than fascinating; there were two or more things happening at any one time, often more. The lighting was detailed and beautiful, the costumes intricate and, frankly, amazing. Akhnaten himself is introduced to us at the beginning atop a scaffold, one assumes acting as a wall. He disrobes to become stark naked as though a new-born being introduced to the world before being crowned, anointed and deified.

The music, under the baton of Karen Kamensek was note-perfect. A smidge slower than my CD, the only recording that there is currently, but not one note missing (there are a lot). The original staging was in Stuttgart which has a very small pit, so was re-worked from the beginning with all strings except cello and bass taken out. The singers are similarly pared down with three main voices only, alto (in its top register), soprano and Akhnaten as counter-tenor so all high and ethereal; other- worldly would be another description which is surely deliberate.

A continual theme throughout is a troup of jugglers, sometimes with balls, sometimes with batons. These are always most skilful with imaginative choreography, eliciting spontaneous applause on several occasions. That said, apart from decoration it wasn’t until near the end that its metaphor became apparent – the art of government and giving attention to all things at all times; as the state disintegrates so their skill dissipates and things start dropping.

The singers were fully up to the task, with Anthony Roth Constanzo in the title role, Emma Carrington as Nefertiti and Rebecca Carrinfon as his mother Tye. Whilst many may not like, or understand, or misunderstand (there are those who would say the same about Wagner it must be said), I for one most certainly enjoyed, appreciated and wonder why it took 31 years to come back.

Christopher Monk

Return to top of page



Home
|
Current Issue
|
Diary
|
Subscribe
|
Book Orders
Rising Stars
|
Selected Reviews
|
Stop Press
|
Contact & Advertising
|
Links