Philip Glass’s music is often misunderstood as repetitive. Superficially it is, but it shifts forward almost continuously. Maintaining its rhythmic progress is a challenge for instrumentalists and singers alike. Glass’ Akhenaten is of one of his three ‘portrait’ operas featuring Einstein, Gandhi and the Pharaoh Akhenaten. This program consisted of eight scenes from the opera covering the rule of Akhenaten (and Nefertiti) and the remaking of worship away from multi theism to Aten represented by the rays of the sun and the final destruction of all that Akhenaten and his mother and consort construct.
This set of tableaus places the instrumentalist centre stage with the singers performing around and behind the players. The ensemble consisted of two viola da gamba, a baroque cello and two recorder players as well as music director Diana Weston on harpsichord. Experienced choral conductor Sarah Penicka-Smith kept both the singers and the instrumentalists up to rhythmic demands of the score. The two recorder players Joanne Arnott and Alicia Crossley provided much of agile variety in a very strong ensemble.
Of the singers Anna Fraser (Queen Tye) and Mark Donnelly (Aye) were the stand out performers, singing in a language that is represented as ancient Egyptian and based on Akhenaten’s extant poetry, although the Hymn to the Sun is sung in English. Akhenaten is sung by young counter tenor, David Crowden, whose voice is still developing, not quite strong enough to heard above the more powerful voices the ensemble mode. Hester Hannah was Nefertiti, and Adam Majsay was the principal tenor singing in a variety of contexts.
One feature of the production was the use of scent slowly released into the audience. It is said to be have both masculine and feminine qualities reflecting those of Akhenaten. It was an interesting idea and presumably had the virtue of providing some sponsorship. The abstractions of the music and the scent were not quite matched by the costumes where the literal seemed to prevail. More generic costuming might have been more fitting. Nevertheless this was a very satisfying evening of music with the relatively minor imperfections of productions outside the subsidised mainstream.
|Find out more: We wrote about the story behind the scent.|