“His sun hath risen’ – Akhnaten returns!” The English National Opera’s now famous production of Philip Glass’s opera has been here, there, and everywhere since its first appearance in 2016, and has once again returned to the London Coliseum stage, with its brilliance thankfully intact.
Akhnaten is Glass’s final opera in his trilogy of biographical works. Following the story of the Egyptian Pharaoh, from his ascension and controversial monotheism to his marriage to Nefertiti and eventual death, its drama rests in the gradual layering of Glass’s minimalist score, and the accompanying bold storytelling of Akhnaten’s scribe.
Shrouded in historical mystery, this production leans into the alien qualities of ancient Egypt. The glory of designer Tom Pye’s vision is superbly realised – with no small thanks to some fabulously gilded costuming from Kevin Pollard.
This production is an unabashed extravaganza of an opera, with director Phelim McDermott working in collaboration with the theatre company Improbable to bring the show to life.
The unique inclusion of a dozen jugglers, all part of the Gandini juggling group, makes for a remarkable spectacle. Balls and batons whizz past the noses of singers, beautifully tying the drama on stage to the repetitive, almost hypnotic elements of Glass’s music.
Anthony Roth Costanzo reprises his role as Akhnaten. Along with a stunning countertenor voice, his performance possesses an instantly captivating, ethereal, otherworldly quality.
Queen Nefertiti is sung superbly by Chrystal E. Williams, who possesses an unmatched majesty on stage.
Likewise, Zachary James’s Scribe is instantly captivating, his naturally authoritative voice dictates the show’s direction, and Akhnaten’s eventual demise.
Conductor Karen Kamensek is an expert on all things Glass, which is evident in her care and control of the drama, with the occasional moment of palpable furore.
While there isn’t much room for subtlety in this production, the constant simmer of tension more than makes up for an absence of tenderness.
Unfortunately, as is the way with successful operas, the run is already entirely sold out. My apologies to all those unlucky enough to miss out on tickets this time round. To those who possess a golden ticket, try not to gloat too much, just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.