Since watching the Wagner operas I talk about here, I’ve been catching up on some more; though this time on my iPad which proved up to the task.
This was a 2019 Met production of the 1984 work by Philip Glass. I think it was actually a London production that I’d read about on Twitter. In any event, here is a great review of it in the New York Times. (Only accessible to subscribers). This says that the counter tenor in the title role, Anthony Roth Costanzo starts off naked but you don’t notice that – or at least I didn’t – although I”d heard about that in the a review of the London production.
It starts at the funeral of his father who we – through a window into a subterranean room – see being mummified by attendants. We are in the hands of a Scribe, played by Zachary James – a singer who has kept people amused on social media during lockdown by revealing different costumes and also short videos of him singing. I say played here, because he declaims rather than sings. He’s meant to be the ghost of Akhnaten’s father but I didn’t really know that – there were no subtitles and it was sung mostly in Egyptian I think. The Scribe speaking in English is quoting from various texts that don’t immediately relate to the action. Joe referred to an overview of the story on the internet and this kept us informed enough about what was going on. Zachary very clear in his annunciation. He also looked terrific.
As did everyone in the production. Especially the hero of the piece – if that is what you would call him. Tragic hero. He enters, takes on the full panoply of pharaoh; introduces a new God to replace the existing multiple gods, neglects his people and is eventually deposed. Here he is in full regalia.
He’s surrounded by the old priests, loyal to the current gods, who will eventually overthrow him. Great costumes, especially the hats. There were jugglers in spandex catsuits whose juggling as the review says provided and apt visual representation of the spiraling rhythms of the music as well as the roiling tensions incited by Akhnaten’s rule. The review goes on to say they were overdone and in the end intrusive but I don’t agree. They were terrific.
As you can see in that picture, my iPad was a good enough screen; as I sat on the couch and knitted. There were some spectacular visual effects. Akhnaten introduced a new God – Aten/ the Sun – and in a wonderfully realized scene, prays to him alone. Fantastically lush costumes.
The orb changes colour. The reviewer thought Costanzo did not sing this well, but I thought it was terrific. I loved the music; it was hypnotic and modern but always tuneful. Terrific.
There was a lovely duet between Akhnaten and his wife Nefertiti sung by J’Nai Bridges. In this story, unlike most, husband and wife are too close, which eventually causes the pharoah to neglect his people. The Scribe declaims words from letters written to him imploring him to take action to protect his people. Which in real life he ignored, leading to his downfall. Depicted here.
He and his wife and mother then return as ghosts. Back in their sumptuous clothes.
We also see some students inattentive when being taught this history – by the Scribe – all in modern clothes. The message being I suppose, to what end is any human endeavour – it all ends as just history. All in all I loved everything about this.
It gave me a new appreciation of the music of Philip Glass which I have not hitherto explored. Which was enhanced by listening to this list of ten essential pieces from OperaNews which you may be able to access here. (Sometimes these clips are accessible and sometimes not).
Dame Joan Sutherland – Lucia di Lammermoor
Next I watched Joan Sutherland in a famous 1986 performance of her signature role of Lucia in Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor. This is the role that made her famous when she sang it at Covent Garden in London in 1959. According to the Opera Australia website that introduces the film of the opera that they put up for streaming in June this year: Her version of the famous “mad scene” in the third act – and extraordinary technical challenge and showpiece for the singer playing Lucia is now legendary.
It certainly was and is! She looked completely exhausted after it.
I don’t remember ever seeing this opera, although I may have. Opera Australia succinctly summarises the plot as follows: Lucia is a woman on the edge of insanity: Deceived by her brother, bereft of her lover, she marries a man she does not love and descends into madness.
I don’t know whether the production was very dark, the film of it certainly was and I wasn’t able to take very satisfactory photos. Here she is with her lover, Edgardo, sung by Richard Greager.
They look better in this black and white photo from the website – although as you can see above the colours of the costumes were gorgeous.
I was surprised to see that according to the Opera Australia site the production included John Wegner, one of my very favourite Australian singers since I saw him in my first Ring Cycle in Adelaide performing the role of Wotan. I didn’t recognise him in this and I couldn’t find him on the cast list so he didn’t have a major role.
You can actually find this film on IMDb but you can also watch it here. At least for the next little while.
The Magic Flute.
I also watched Mozart’s Magic Flute in a 2020 production streamed by the Royal Opera House, London. I really appreciate all this opera being streamed. However I wasn’t keen on this one. The libretto is too silly although Joe tells me it is an allegory about the Masons or something. There’s a lot said about hypocrisy and there are a lot of silly tests, so that’s probably true , but I couldn’t be bothered with it at all.
Lovely music but silly narrative, best bit was the Queen of the Night’s aria which you can see here.
And you can watch the whole opera here. I’m not sure for how long.