Akhnaten, Philip Glass's third opera, is a work of relatively compact dimensions but with all the qualities of epic about it. More a history than a story, it tells in Glass's characteristically elliptical fashion of the rise and fall of Akhnaten, sun-worshipper and monotheist, the 'man of religion' who complements in Glass's opera-trilogy the 'man of science' in Einstein on the Beach, and Gandhi, 'man of politics' in Satyagraha. Instead of a libretto there are texts and documents recovered by the Egyptologists, sung or spoken against an endlessly flowing line of orchestral background that symbolizes the passage of time.
Characters as such barely exist, indeed the very notion of 'characterization' is quite inapplicable to theRead more elusive figures who pass through the music like ghosts or shadows. Religious fervour always excepted, everything is drained of human detail and emotion. Even the Act 2 duet between Akhnaten and Nefertiti has all the passion of a pair of scarab beetles mating, indeed, it comes as no surprise to find that the words of this domestic exchange are the same ones used just minutes earlier to address the sun-god Aten. Such is the manner of this solemn, ritualistic work. Decades pass; religions are set up and topple; always the orchestra, the ultimate protagonist, throbs underneath with its almost seamless weft of minor-mode arpeggios. Like Satie's Socrate, another piece of 'white music' and a score to which Akhnaten owes a great deal, this is a statuesque work of such earnestness that the term 'opera', with its implication of drama, fails to communicate the nature of the conception.
Akhnaten contains some of Glass's very best music. The Act I funeral scene, almost anthropo-logically observed with its terrifying drumming and the wild trumpet that accompanies the male chorus at the climax of the procession, strikes a chilling note from which the atmosphere never recovers. The final scene, sung wordlessly by the ghosts of Akhnaten, his wife and his mother in the ruins of their city, haunts the mind long after the music has ceased to play. Strangest and most wonderful of all is the ''Hymn to the Sun'', sung by Akhnaten himself at the centre of the opera, and addressed to the audience in its own language—English was chosen for the recording. It is one of the very few moments when we are invited to participate in Akhnaten's private world of belief, and with Glass's mesmeric music it's difficult not to be drawn in completely and utterly.
Success in the performance of Akhnaten relies more upon the orchestra than on voices, and here the Stuttgart State Opera (which commissioned the work) does a superb job. With relatively limited scope for interpretation, the soloists are to be judged more for the nature of their voices than for what they put into the playing of their parts, and in this regard I was slightly disappointed only by Paul Esswood, whose tense, tight-toned singing of the title-role turns Akhnaten into a colder, more remote figure than he need have been. The chorus is marvellous. Documentation, vital for an understanding of the story, is more than adequate, with full texts and translations from the Egyptian and Hebrew.
Akhnatenby Philip Glass Performer:
Milagro Vargas (Alto),
Melinda Liebermann (Soprano),
Tero Hannula (Baritone),
Helmut Holzapfel (Tenor),
Cornelius Hauptmann (Bass),
Victoria Schneider (Soprano),
Lynne Wilhelm-Königer (Soprano),
Maria Koupilová-Ticha (Soprano),
Paul Esswood (Countertenor),
Geraldine Rose (Alto),
Angelika Schwarz (Alto),
David Warrilow (Spoken Vocals),
Christina Wächtler (Alto)
Dennis Russell Davies
Stuttgart State Opera Chorus,
Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1983; USA Date of Recording: 1987 Venue: Karlshohe Church, Ludwigsburg, Germany Length: 128 Minutes 37 Secs. Notes: Portions of this work were recorded at Bauer Sound Studio, Ludwigsburg, Germany, and at The Living Room, New York City. The text of this work is performed in English, Egyptian, Hebrew and Akkadian.
Featured Sound Samples
Act I, Scene 2: The Coronation of Akhnaten
Act II, Scene 2: Akhnaten and Nefertiti
Average Customer Review: ( 4 Customer Reviews )
Enjoy AkhnatenSeptember 26, 2014By Hezekiah Zeiber (Woodhaven, MI)See All My Reviews"Different, but enjoyable. I read the enclosed write up."Report Abuse
MasterfulDecember 30, 2012By James Carleton (Port Hueneme, CA)See All My Reviews"This is the best of Glass' three "biography operas", the other two being 'Einstein on the Beach', and 'Satyagraha'. I would disagree with the Gramaphone essay from 1998 which was quoted when I posted this comment: there is a wealth of characterization here, at least compared to the other two operas, but it is not in a traditional form. Rather, we see the characters of traditional Ancient Egyptian belief, and that of Akhnaten's attempt to "reduce" all the gods to One. We also get a glimpse of the Pharaoh as a family man first, and Pharaoh second. And it has a legitimate plot which can be followed as the opera progresses, something which is not as easily said of 'Einstein', in particular. The music of this opera is much more developed than in 'Einstein", and not quite as motoric and repetitive as in 'Satyagraha', which makes it more easily appreciated and enjoyed by someone who is not familiar with Glass' methods. Highly recommended!"Report Abuse
THE DEFINITIVE GLASS OPERAJuly 5, 2012By Alfredo Villanueva (New York, NY)See All My Reviews"I have had this recording in several incarnations, including cassette and long-playing. I consider it the definitive Glass opera in terms of its musical complexity, the extraordinary use of human voices, and the overall feeling of musical spectacle, which is totally projected by the amazing performance. Glass--radiance!"Report Abuse