MonoPhilip Glass is indisputably one of the most prolific composers of the last half century, yet none of his more than 20 operas has found a place in the standard repertoire.  Arguably, Akhnaten comes closest. 

Glass’s first three operas formed his “Portrait Trilogy” consisting of Einstein on the Beach (1975), Satyagraha (1979) and Akhnaten (1983).  Einstein, composed for Glass’s ensemble of six musicians, is a challenge for opera companies, performers (mostly dancers), and audiences with its elaborate scenic requirements and running time of five hours without a pause.  The minimalism of Satyagraha, essentially an oratorio scored only for strings and woodwinds, can grown tiresome.

Akhnaten, the story of the pharaoh initially known as Amenhotep IV, is by far Glass most conventional opera, and his first composed for a full orchestra.  In the early 1980s, it won acclaim in Stuttgart (where it premiered), Houston, and at New York City Opera.  This week’s performance comes from the English National Opera earlier this year and stars North Carolina native countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in the title role.

I’d venture to say that Akhnaten is the Glass opera most likely to attract seasoned both opera fans and neophytes, with its lush orchestrations, solid linear narrative, and dancelike rhythms.  In fact, Jerome Robbins utilized an orchestral transcription of the orgiastic march from the funeral of Amenhotep’s father as one of three sections of his 1983 ballet Glassworks, regularly performed by dance companies around the world from New York City Ballet to the Wiener Staatsballett.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten

English National Opera
Karen Kamensek, conductor
March 2016

Akhnaten – Anthony Roth Costanzo
Nefertiti – Emma Carrington
Queen Tye – Rebecca Bottone
Horemhab – James Cleverton
Aye – Clive Bayley
High Priest of Amon – Colin Judson
The Scribe – Zachary James
Bekhetaten – Clare Eggington
Meretaten – Alexa Mason
Maketaten – Rosie Lomas
Ankhesenpaaten – Anna Huntley
Neferneferuaten – Katie Bray
Sotopenre – Victoria Gray