‘Akhnaten’ by The Metropolitan Opera

Yeah, so I guess I’ll review an opera. I have to admit I’m not really an opera person (this is the first one I’ve ever watched), but I liked it enough that here we are. I found a link to The Metropolitan Opera’s webpage, where they were streaming a video of it for free. I decided to watch the video because I’m a fan of ancient history, and I knew a thing or two about Akhenaten’s era in Ancient Egypt, and I have to say I was not disappointed.

HISTORY

Historically, Akhenaten was an important figure in Egyptian history, for he stands in stark contrast to everything which came before and after him. Ancient Egypt was a culture locked in vast political, historical, and artistic stasis. In Egypt, the same gods were worshiped for over three thousand years. The same art styles were used for over three thousand years with almost no innovation. The same priest-caste centered political system was used from the Stone Age until Alexander and then the Romans took over.

And in the middle of that 3000 years, Akhenaten became Pharaoh. He threw out the old religion and instituted a new monotheistic religion. He innovated a new art style. He created a new  political system, dethroning the priests from their roles as bureaucrats.

He’s a fascinating character who reformed a stagnating culture, but it wasn’t to be. The priests fought back and cast him low, putting his son Tutenkamun on the throne. They outlawed Akhenaten’s artstyle. They persecuted his religion, going throughout Egypt to destroy every reference to his montheistic god. For thousands of years all knowledge of Akhenaten’s reforms were forgotten.

MUSIC

The music was by the luminary Philip Glass. The second the music began, I recognized that it was by the same creator of the Qatsi trilogy, some movies I enjoyed back in the day. Glass brings a somewhat mystical aspect to the presentation, an echo of the divine Aten you might say.

PERFORMANCES

All the opera actors did a good job, both in their acting roles as well as singing. I thought the actor who played Akhenaten owned the stage whenever he was on it (which is good, because the entire opera is about him). However I thought that whenever he had a duet with Nefertiri I had trouble telling the two apart due to the fact that they had such similar vocal ranges… though maybe this is what they were going for, as they were husband and wife and thus two sides of the same coin/the same person.

Also, juggling. Lots of juggling. It worked, and was at times mesmerizing.

SET DESIGN and COSTUMES

On point. The MET took a sorta grunge-Egyptian angle for building the sets, using neon lights and plastic and cement stairs, while also still using classical Egyptian iconography like the hands of the sun and the Feather of Ma’at.

As for the costumes, they were all very stylish. They were colorful and thematic, including using the double-crown of Upper and Lower Egypt as well as the Queen’s Crown of Nefertiri, as well as using the crown of Hathor as well for Queen Tye. I can go on and on; whoever did the set and character designs really did a good job of drawing inspiration from ancient history.

THAT SAID, I liked that the costume designers were so willing to take liberties and go in their own direction at times. (For example, what’s up with that Baron Samedi looking fellow with a top hat and a skull and an umbrella? I have no clue but I love it.) The fact that the designers were so willing to play things straight so often made their deviations from the norm that much more special. Though I must say the dolls on Akhenaten’s garb were a bit creepy.

NET TOTAL

This was good. I suggest you watch it if you have the chance, especially if you are a fan of ancient history or like watching a somewhat psychadelic experience.

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