Review: Grammy-winning ‘Akhnaten’ returns to the Metropolitan Opera

Not long ago this season — just January – The Metropolitan Opera program is almost classic: classics by Verdi, Puccini and Mozart.

But take a look at the next few weeks and you’ll find companies that look better and riskier. Thursday, “Akhenaton” by Philip Glass The first comeback since the debut of the Met, 2019at Brett Dean’s U.S. premiere last week “village.” Next to the opening on May 30 is Stravinsky’s Revival “The Advancement of the Rake,” Older but more stylish than many in the house on Jonathan Miller’s stage. By June, Rigoletto will stand alone as a retainer of the core repertoire.

Although a departure from the Met’s standard show “Akhnaten” – which began in 1984, in the final part of Glass’s “Portrait” opera trilogy, in the seminal “Einstein on the Beach” and “Einstein on the Beach” After Satyagraha”, a musing on Gandhi’s nonviolent movement – perhaps more reliable than saying “Tosca”. A few years ago, when “Akhenaton” arrived late, it was a huge box-office success, attracting a significantly younger audience.

That game ended up being a success recording the most recent won a grammy. This revival is a lap of victory, with the same conductor and nearly the same cast. Even Thursday’s audience seemed to be coming out of those early days. Artists like Erin Markey and Justin Vivian Bond mingle on the theater’s promenade, and the scene is more like Joe’s Pub than Lincoln Center.

However, there are some key differences from 2019. Works by Philim McDermott, now more vivid, unfolds with graceful inevitability rather than effort; the score’s execution is crisp and lacking in drive on this often loose album. While “Akhnaten” may be one of Glass’ tributes to the greats who changed the world through science, politics and faith, Thursday’s performance made a compelling argument for where the real power lies: women.

For example, the actor’s new mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb plays Akhnaten’s wife Nefertiti. A longtime 18th- and 19th-century opera appearance at the Met, she sang a new role Thursday that she captured with confidence and resounding power. As a partner to Anthony Roth Costanzo, the tenor who has almost monopolized the lead role in this production, her lush, vibrato-rich voice forms a fruitful mix with his ethereal purity Contrast – she’s down to earth, he’s wild, and they meet somewhere in the middle for their long, hypnotically sensual duet.

Even more powerful is soprano Disella Larusdottir as Queen Tye, Akhnaten’s mother. She’s penetrating and resonant, catapulting burst-like phrases with near-mechanical precision and stamina, but also expressive within the discipline. It was Akhnaten, who initiated a kind of monotheism in his worship of the sun god Aten, who, in the second act, expelled the priests from the temple. However, Thursday’s attack appeared to come from Queen Tye, Larousse Dottir being so terrifying and forceful in her delivery.

Conductor Karen Kamensek has put together a clunky piece and leads a more reliable Met than in 2019. She and the orchestra set the tone with the opera’s mood-altering, time-bending prelude. On the recordings, the propulsive, ever-changing arpeggios are presented with sluggish, staccato strumming of legato phrases. Returning with more experience, with noticeably more control, the score moves with clear transparency and tense momentum that doesn’t relax in the first act. Still, instrumentalists still have work to do. The strings occasionally slip into soft articulations as the performance progresses; the brass is clumsy and imprecise, mistakes that cannot be hidden in music that lives or dies on accuracy.

McDermott’s work similarly exposed its performers: not just the singer, but a dozen catsuit-clad vaudeville performers, including the show’s choreographer Sean Gandini. The stage is gorgeous but scrappy – Kevin Pollard’s imaginative thrift store found costumes, Tom Pye’s matching sets, Bruno Porter Poet) Clever Lighting – requires yoga’s patience and stability in its movements, as well as active eyes as anyone watching. (At one point, one of Gandini’s men was balancing on a large roller while on the scaffolding above, jugglers were tossing balls and the choir was doing the same; in the spectacle it was Akhenaton who performed Father’s funeral.)

It can absorb a lot, and the juggling metaphor—its spheres breathe the breath of Akhenaten’s precious suns, their constant and unpredictable movements as erratic as his reign—proves its meaning too quickly It can’t last that a ceremony, it did not reach Beyond McDermott’s “Satyagraha,” One of Met’s finest works, its visual variety and inventiveness give way to sublime austerity.

The choreography does have its awe-inspiring moments, however, such as when the juggling pins fly around Aaron Black, and as Amon’s high priest, he – despite the risk of being hit – doesn’t even hint at backing down when he sings With a strong tenor. Black’s character, along with Aye (bass Richard Bernstein) and General Hollenhab (baritone Will Liverman), forms a three-way resistance to Akhenaten’s rule, instigating an end to it and its restoration Revolt against the old religious order. In oral passages, Zachary James recounts the arc of the pharaoh’s reign, thrilling with his towering presence and pompous declaration, neither this age nor this world.

James takes on the role of lecturer towards the end of the opera, while Costanzo’s Akhnaten appears as a museum exhibit. That’s how we remember, McDermott said: through history, through exhibitions, through the spectacle of opera performances. Glass made his own version of this with the core aria “Psalm to the Sun,” a prayer scene to Aten that ends with an offstage chorus singing Psalm 104 – traced directly from Akhenaton to a Theism dominates today.

As if that wasn’t enough to place Akhnaten in the pantheon of great innovators, the music for the final scene introduces a subtle reference from “Einstein on the Beach.” Here, instead of putting his “Portrait” trilogy in order, Glass acknowledges it. On Thursday, though, the incursion was also a reminder: After the triumphs of “Satyagraha” and “Akhnaten,” when will the Met and McDermott give Einstein his own work?

until June 10 at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan; American Drama Network.

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