Like nothing else I’ve experienced

Yesterday dad took off with Heavy Lifter and his buddies to the farm for deer hunting (and before you get all worried, no, dad hasn’t really hunted in several years now). Within an hour of him leaving I had started to develop the symptoms of a cold, which is turning into a pattern (the stress disappears, my body relaxes, the germs start winning), but I had plans and I wasn’t having them thwarted. So yesterday I saw Last Christmas (I’m pleading the Fifth on this one) and Knives Out, in an “early access” screening (one of the best films I’ve seen this year, but the screening was marred by a fellow spectator who couldn’t stay off his phone).

And today I had a ticket for the Met Live in HD production of Philip Glass’ Akhnaten (premiered this season).

I know, I know. Philip Glass, who never had an interesting or moving musical idea he didn’t repeat thirty or forty times back to back. As one of the singers mentioned during an intermission, he has to sing the name of Amun 34 times in a row in the second act, and it’s easy to get lost. I guess if you’re an opera singer, you have to like whatever you’re singing that night, but for me, although Glass was covered in the second half of the history of music survey I had to take in college, meh. I didn’t become a fan.

However, it’s an easy way to broaden my horizons, and get some serious, elevated culture into my soul. I’m familiar with the Akhenaten narrative, as it’s one of the episodes of Egyptian history I cover in World Civ I. I’ve taught the Hymn to the Sun attributed to him at least half a dozen times. The reviews of this production have been rave — calling it possibly the strongest new entry of this Met season. There was an interesting preview of the production in one of the earlier transmissions I saw this season (either Turandot or Manon — I don’t remember which), which noted its rhythmic elements and showed how it would be paired with juggling. That preview was really what got me to buy the ticket.

But, coincidentally, it’s also a way of connecting with the crush.

I got there early and settled into my seat — this cinema has very comfy reclining chairs, and I got my favorite one as I had booked early. And then: uch. As the transmission started, the same group of viewers settled in next to me who completely ruined my visit to Dialogues des Carmelites last spring: they arrive after the lights go out so they have to talk their way up the stairs during the overture, they talk obnoxiously all the way through the transmission, and one of them doesn’t want to be there and reminds everyone around him repeatedly. In the spring I’d gotten my ticket refunded after asking them to be quiet multiple times (I guess they just can’t), but this time, there were free seats in the cinema, so I moved all the way down to the front row (not my usual choice) where I could be alone for some silence while watching. The view turned out to be fine, so I may do this again if I run into problems.

This is the basic story: After the funeral of his father, Akhnaten is crowned Pharaoh. He institutes the worship of one deity in place of traditional polytheism: Aten (Ra), the sun god. After expelling those who disagree, he builds a city. Next, he sings of his love for his wife, Nefertiti, and then he sings his Hymn to the Sun (the climax of the production). Afterwards, as his reign proves incompetent and he and his family seem oblivious, he is attacked and removed by his opponents. His death leads to his funeral and mummification, the coronation of his successor, and his own gradual transition into the dusty, inattentive remnants of historical memory. In an epilogue, his ghost appears with that of his wife and mother to sing in mournful wordlessness.


J’Nai Bridges, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Dísella Lárusdóttir in the epilogue.

Perhaps one should add that there are practically no subtitles for most of the text (in ancient languages), but as in many Glass works, much of the singing involves humming, “ah” sounds, and percussive noises. And there’s a narrator (the spirit of Akhnaten’s father, Amenhotep IV) who tells the story anyway.

So far, so good. On the plus side, the costumes are the bomb, a melange of hieroglyphic and steampunk. The juggling was interesting and (I thought) meaningful in the context of the production. And I thought up to the first intermission that the production was actually succeeding in being hypnotic as opposed to repetitive. However, I apparently missed the startling frontal nudity at Akhnaten’s entrance. by the second act, hypnotic had turned into stifling and I was having a hard time keeping my head up straight. I think the stress relief, fatigue from the cold, and the comfy chair in the warm room caught up with me and the sort of monotonous music was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I did think the staging of the love duet between Aknaten and Nefertiti was beautiful, but I dozed off for something like twenty minutes and completely missed the Hymn to Aten, which is widely considered the most worthwhile musical moment of the piece.

The Hymn to the Sun. I didn’t actually see this part.

Maybe that’s a feature of musical minimalism? The climax is actually inverts into an anti-climax? Instead of getting us increasingly involved in the story, it touches our souls but putting us to sleep? This is anyway NOT part of my Richard Armitage fantasy life. I definitely DO NOT go on opera dates with him in my fantasies where I end up falling asleep during serious musical works!

To be honest I can’t listen to Max Richter, either. So I guess my chamber music concert fantasies — which were originally more centered on composers like Dvorak — may need revision of some kind.

I was awake for the final act, although I laughed inwardly at the end. The camera follows the singers off stage after the current call and the last glimpse is a dresser coming up to Anthony Roth Constanzo, who plays Akhnaten, to remove his heavy overrobe. When he gets it off, he skips through the backstage area in a hoopskirt, shouting “I’m free!” I could identify.

In the end, the cultural day picked up. I left and went to my favorite Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall for pho / that chicken soup. I came home and put on TCM, which was running an excellent film I’d missed the first time around. As I write these lines, the beginning of Crossing Delancey is playing (I wrote about it here). Amy Irving — I love the way she dresses in this film. I’ve got a bottle of Three Philosophers to open.

So can I change “Wine does more than Milton can …” to “Beer does more than Philip Glass can”?

~ by Servetus on November 24, 2019.

31 Responses to “Like nothing else I’ve experienced”

  1. What an awesome day! I’ve been silently following the other posts and don’t feel I have the experience to comment. But I can comment on this post. Glad to see you liked Knives Out because I was wanting to see it.


    • I’m glad to see you here again! Definitely see Knives Out — for me 2019 has been a bust year for film (although arguably the good films are not showing here), so this was a huge exception.


  2. I’m an opera lover from my childhood but I’m a very conservative opera lover. I can’t stand most of the modern extravagant productions. I usually watch foreign opera productions online but I went twice to see on big screen live broadcasting of Met’s Der Rosenkavelier and Samson&Dalilla with my favourite mezzo Elina Garanča and did enjoy both productions very much.
    I like both Glass and Richter music. It’s nothing to do with Richard liking it 😊.
    Hugs 🤗


    • We went to see musicals and operettas (Gilbert and Sullivan) when I was little, but I wasn’t really exposed to opera until I was at university. I like some of it (Wagner, for instance, despite my political issues with him) but there are a bunch of things that are just too over the top for me (which I know is a strange thing to say since I just said I like Wagner). This year I saw Turandot and Manon but skipped Butterfly and am planning to skip The Magic Flute (although ordinarily I like Mozart) and Tosca. The next one is Wozzeck, which I have never seen and am looking forward to. I wish I understood more about the technical aspects of the singing. I do enjoy the Met’s productions — I feel like even when they are not necessarily to my taste (Turandot) they are very meticulous.

      Hugs back!


  3. I hope you’re feeling better soon!


  4. Profitez de vos jours de liberté.


  5. Though my stress is different than yours, I too find myself having to take the first day of the weekend to rest and drink lots of tea and take naps as I fend off the germs of the week. I’ve often wondered if it’s my body sighing in relief that signals to the millions of germ generals I’ve been staving off, now is the moment to attack.


    • I’m actually going to undertake something immune-boosting soon: not sure what. Diet or supplements or something. The spring will be worse as I’ll be teaching more. Let me know if you find any solution.


  6. Now I don’t feel so bad that I fell asleep during Koyaanisqatsi years ago. 🙂 Glad you were able to feed your soul.


  7. I’m sorry about your cold and hope it is on the mend – I seem to remember that happened another time you had some freedom – but glad to hear that you had some time to yourself to do some enjoyable (or not) things. I too fancied seeing Knives Out so I’m even more encouraged. We played Philip Glass’s The Light at my dad’s funeral. It was perfect for the occasion but it did go on and on and I was acutely aware of the restlessness in the aisles.


    • The one thing I would say about “Knives Out” is it does demand a little attention. Don’t go when you’re sleepy or feeling unfocused 🙂

      I don’t think I’ve ever been to a funeral where there’s been secular music, so I’m fascinated by that possibility. I do think that the music worked for the first act of the opera and if it had ened there I probably would have thought, “huh, intriguing.” The total run time approached four hours, though.


      • Last Thursday, I attended a funeral, where this secular song was broadcast

        Nothing is more present in the heart of a living than the memory of an absentee who is dear to him!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for the tip, I’ll try and see a matinee showing when I’m more awake. The advantage of the secular service was that it was more personal, we could choose music that had meaning to our father. The disadvantage was disagreeing with siblings about which music had the most meaning. The opera was four hours? Holy Moly! A rival to Wagner then.


        • yeah, and I don’t have a problem with four hours of Wagner.

          We have all our funerals planned already, with our own musical selections in place, so I guess we’ll get what we thought we wanted when we planned them. We took a class on preparing for end of life (mom, dad, me, HL and his wife) like ten years ago. If you want a Lutheran funeral around here (everyone in my family but me) secular music is not an option. And the Jewish funeral service is pretty rigid. It’s fine with me. I won’t be there 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I know “Last Christmas” has not gotten good reviews but I did originally want to since it has Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh, and the ultra-dreamy Henry Golding are in it. But with ticket prices what they are now, I think I will wait for it to show up on Netflix.


    • Emma Thompson and Henry Golding were my main reasons, too. I don’t think you’ll miss out even slightly by waiting for Netflix, though, except if someone spoils the movie plot for you.


  9. Saw the opera during the same simulcast. I was going to skip this one since I don’t like Philip Glass, but the preview looked so spectacular that I got a ticket. I thought the costumes were incredible and some of the staging was innovative, but I really couldn’t stand most of the music, too much juggling and how everyone seemed to move in slow motion the entire time. That drove me crazy. Still, I guess I’ll take my culture where I can get it, and am glad that Live At the Met has come to town. My next one up is Porgy and Bess.


  10. Thank you for the description of your cultural day. Grüße

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m sorry the Opera was such a sleeping pill. Oh, and I adore Crossing Delancey! Watched it many times back in the day when I had it on video. I should see if I can dig up a copy again and re-watch it.


    • Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, the comedy holds up really well, I thought. Lately I find I’m bothered by a lot of things that I used to think were hilarious but this one is still pretty good. I love both Irving and Riegert in these roles, and it’s an added treat to see Reizl Bozyk — I think this is maybe her only performance captured on screen?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. No idea, why I missed this post earlier…

    Glad you enjoyed yourself and good to hear you liked Knives Out. Can’t wait to watch it early 2020


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