Wednesday, March 09, 2016


I have a sort of bucket list of things I’d like to do before I die. Unusually for me, it’s not actually written down or systematically planned out with specific deadlines. That either means I’m not too fussed about my list or it means I still think I have enough time left to not fret about it.

One of the things on that list is seeing all three operas in the Philip Glass trilogy about famous historical figures who’ve changed our perceptions of the world. The trilogy of works is: Einstein on the Beach, about theoretical physicist Albert Einstein; Satyagraha, about Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi; and Akhnaten, about the pharaoh Akhnaten, who introduced a new monotheistic religion into Ancient Egypt.

The tickets for Akhnaten at the Coliseum in London went on sale last year and I snapped up two front row seats in the dress circle. I figured that if I was going to do this, then I may as well do it in style… although my credit card did yelp in pain when the initial payment went through.

Fortunately, the expense was worth it. It was astonishing experience. 

Staged as a co-production between the English National Opera and Improbable Theatre, it was a visually stunning affair. The set constantly changed to create tableaus of hieroglyphic scripts, then switched to a mass coronation scene, a royal palace, an intimate chamber scene and a street riot, before returning to a tableau of the family of Akhnaten, his mother, his wife and his father reunited in death. The costumes were amazing, too.

I was already familiar with the music and the libretto because it’s one of the classical CDs that’s had the most air play at Brooks Towers. Glass remains one of my ways in to not only modern classical music, but pretty much all classical music. But there was something incredibly absorbing and engaging about hearing it live with a full orchestra and seeing it, too. It was sensory overload.

To paraphrase This is Spinal Tap, it turned the volume of the whole experience up to 11.

I’m still unsure where I stand on opera. In the UK, it’s quite an expensive and an elitist art form, even though a trip to the opera is about the same price as a trip to see a Premiership football team. But I think football is way over-priced, too.

I would, however, rather pay money to the ENO than to a multi-millionaire professional footballer. At least the artists involved aspired towards excellence and pleasing the audience, while too many footballers I've seen seem not to really care about the fans or be very good at their jobs. But that’s an internal debate for another time.

I hope to similarly mesmerised by Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha.

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