January 28, 2020 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Vox and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo offer a glimpse behind the scenes of the New York Metropolitan Opera's recent staging of Akhnaten, Philip Glass's opera about the monotheist Egyptian monarch, featuring juggling, a twelve-Anthony-sized sun, and a tastefully pixellated slow-motion nude descent of a staircase.
posted by Etrigan (18 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Oops, forgot: Akhnaten previously on MetaFilter.
posted by Etrigan at 1:23 PM on January 28

I had the pleasure of seeing Akhnaten in person at the Met, and was blown away by the beauty of the music, the production, and Anthony's singing. I'd heard "Hymn to the Sun" on his album ARC, but the difference between listening to it on an album and seeing it performed in person is the difference between looking at an individual Christmas light, and looking straight at the sun.

Also, Anthony Roth Costanzo looks amazing naked or clothed. I was in the Grand Tier and had debated renting opera glasses. I didn't need them.
posted by SansPoint at 1:33 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]

I wish they'd gotten into more of the techie stuff! (But I would.)

I had an old roommate who was working towards his PhD in vocal performance at NYU, and he told me a lot about just how physical the act of singing actually is. We think of it just being about breath and notes and tone, but the stance and posture can affect the performance, and it's way more of a full-body workout. There are muscles he knew how to work that I didn't even know humans had.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]

I was so mad that I didn't get to see this broadcast over Fathom. I tried to buy tickets too close to the date. I really underestimated how popular the Met Opera broadcasts would be. A word of warning to everyone else!
posted by Countess Elena at 2:05 PM on January 28

EmpressCallipygos: WQXR has an opera podcast called Aria Code that goes into specific opera arias. In one episode they discussed "Ah, mes amis" from La Fille du Régiment, with one guest being an ex NFL player turned opera singer. The physical demands of opera singing were much discussed.
posted by SansPoint at 2:08 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]

He sounded lovely and thoughtful on Fresh Air. I unfortunately do not love his voice. I do love that he did one (some?) of Songs from Liquid Days on his recent recital disc, the one originally performed by The Roches.
posted by less of course at 2:09 PM on January 28

I saw Akhnaten and it was worth all the back pain from sitting for several hours. Thanks for posting, Etrigan, and for linking to filthy light thief’s prior piece! (I have seen all 3 parts of the trilogy now, yay, but not in order!)
posted by ferret branca at 2:11 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]

Wow. I can’t say that opera is exactly in my wheelhouse, but, the videos on the Met site really make me want to see this production.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:28 PM on January 28

I saw the Fathom broadcast in a theater and got to listen to it again the next week on the radio and both performances were wonderful. Glass is very good at taking you to the edge of boredom, then breaking you out of it. After the radio broadcast Peter Gelb said it would be back next season .

But then I'm biased, I saw the recent (2011?) production of "Einstein on the Beach" twice (heard the music on NPR on Thursday while it was playing in Ann Arbor and immediately bought a ticket - being surprised that one was available for that Sunday night) and then arranged to see it in Toronto the next summer and enjoyed the hell out of it both times. I've also seen and enjoyed Met theater broadcasts of "Satyagraha" and "Nixon in China".
posted by Death and Gravity at 2:40 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]

I saw the production broadcast and it was fabulous. This short was good. There are a bunch more videos about it on the Met site - very worthwhile. Would have loved to have seen it in person!

I saw that same performance of Einstein on the Beach in A2 and was blown away but it as well although I like the music in Akhenaten better.
posted by leslies at 2:42 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]

My parents saw the simulcast and loved it. Although my mom (who has back problems) said, "It was almost 4 hours long. Could've been only 3; they just needed to juggle faster!"
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 3:01 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]

Aria Code also has an episode on Akhnaten.
posted by eyeball at 4:29 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]

We saw the simulcast and it was fantastic. I was distracted/annoyed, though, that after all of the "Anthony Roth Costanzo is naked!!" press, they decided to give him a loincloth for the simulcast. I'm guessing it was some issue with well, screening it in a theatre and all that, but still.

I got a chance to play some minimalist music in high school--my youth orchestra did The Chairman Dances by John Adams. It's mentally exhausting: you need to keep counting constantly to not get lost in the rhythms. It's very rewarding when you get it right, though.

And I think it's an easier transition for some members of the orchestra compared to others: French horn players are used to playing offbeats, so we were slightly less fazed at the measure after measure of the same thing compared to other sections (::cough violins cough::); you can also see a bit of that in the clip where the conductor tells the off beat people not to slow down.
posted by damayanti at 7:03 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]

You’re correct, damayanti - it was a “ratings” thing, because the broadcasts aren’t rated. As usual, it’s fine to broadcast things like, I dunno, Tosca, but the minute someone takes their clothes off... (source: I was in the show, also I’m super happy y’all liked it)
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 7:41 PM on January 28 [14 favorites]

Akhnaten will be broadcast on PBS' Great Performances on April 5, in case you missed out on a chance to see this live or in movie theaters!
posted by rmannion at 8:34 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]

The biggest piece of suspense in the opera broadcast is during the act break where they're putting away the sun. Will it get deflated and into the box in time? It's literally edge of your seat stuff, in such a strange way.

Also, the opera broadcast is.... truly beautiful. It's all the best angles for all the stage pictures, and oh my the stage pictures! Like it was such a real lovely experience. I liked seeing EOTB live better, but I have a filming of that too and I'm glad to have that.
posted by hippybear at 8:59 PM on January 28

I didn’t know much Philip Glass except the sound track of Koyaanisqatsi which was such a thing in the early 80s, until I saw the 1987 Lyric Opera production of Satyagraha and was captivated. I wore out the CDs of that for several years. Box sets being expensive and streaming not having been invented it took me a while until I added the 87 CBS recording of Akhnaten to the mix and decided I liked it even more. It became a family favorite and we have a bad habit of declaiming bits of the narration to each other at inappropriate moments (“Open are the double doors of the horizon. Unlocked are its bolts.”), so I had been wanting to see Akhnaten for years. Now I live not too far from New York I jumped at the chance to finally see it and was not disappointed.

It was a great production, and I was fascinated by how they had made something that was so static in one sense be so visually dynamic — it’s not just the jugglers, there’s a lot going on, often in more than on place at once on the stage, on different levels and planes. Also it’s good to be able to see the orchestra: watching the trombonist negotiate Glass was impressive.

Anthony Roth Costanzo was great and I cannot begin to imagine the sense of vulnerability that being disrobed and then very slowly descending a staircase naked in front of three thousand people must engender. Although in some ways it was even weirder when they picked up his prone form, still naked, turned him end over end and stuffed him into his breeches.

Zachary James was impressive too, though I don’t think I will ever hear the part of the narrator in my head in anything but David Warrilow’s voice and cadence.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:39 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]

Damn, that is a one sharp pang of envy. I've had the undiluted pleasure of seeing the Philip Glass Ensemble perform Music in Twelve Parts (as well as see the man himself perform from Etudes), but (any) one of the early operas would be amazing.
posted by bouvin at 4:25 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]

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