Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Pharoah Akhnaten, King Tut’s Dad, Flees Egypt and Lands at Long Beach Opera

February 11th, 2011

Southern California opera lovers are in for a real treat coming up March 19 and 27, 2011 at Long Beach Opera which presented a smashing “Nixon in China” a year before its much heralded debut at the Met this month in New York City !

[Below: the Pharoah Akhnaten; resized image, based on a photograph of the artifact in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.]

It’s “Akhenaten” (aka Akhnaten) – and aka Pharoah Amenhotep IV – fabled golden King Tutankamun’s Dad – an opera about the dramatic arrival, rise, reign, and untimely departure of Egypt’s first Ruler envisioning just one God –  instead of the pantheon of Egyptian dieties including crocodiles, cats, Anubis, Sekhmet, et al, many of whom we see in Verdi’s masterpiece Aida – also sited in ancient Egypt as is Akhnaten – and many other operas too like Handel’s “Julius Caesar” [Giulio Cesare], Massenet’s “Thais”, Rossini’s “Moses in Egypt”, et al.

Amenhotep IV ruled for five years before changing his name to Akhenaten, which means He Who is Beneficial to The Aten, which refers to the disc of the sun itself. He named his son Tutankaten which means The Living Image of The Aten which is the giver of all life -whose wonderful images invariably show the disc of the sun with multiple arms reaching out to bless and enrich the earth and mankind. He abandoned the ancient capital of Thebes (now called Luxor which I have visited) from which the Pharoahs had ruled for more than a thousand years, moving his capital 180 miles north, constructing a magnificent, imperial city he named Amarna – some remnants still remain in what is now called Tel el Amarna.

But upon his death around 1344 BCE his son, then nine-years-old, King Tut took over and shortly renounced virtually everything his father had overturned, returning to the ancient pantheon of gods, changing his own name to Tutankamun which means The Living Image of Amun – the senior god of this era was Amun – returning his court back to Thebes where the pharoahs ruled into Roman times. The succceeding pharoahs erased almost all evidence of Akhnaten with seemingly a vengeance.

[Below: the funeral mask of King Tutankamun; resized image, based on a photograph of the artifact in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.]

All of us have seen the paintings and the immense statuary of the pharoahs – almost always appearing  in productions of Verid’s “Aida” – and almost always looking very young, very fit, very godlike – but not Akhnaten. Instead, for reasons not yet fully understood, he had himself portrayed in paintings and statuary as an effeminate figure with protuberant lips, a big pot, a slumping posture, but still arrayed in all the glitter of the pharoahs – also well-seen in every production of “Aida” I’ve ever seen.

This highly dramatic and original piece by celebrated American composer Phillip Glass, debuted in Stuttgart, Germany in 1984 with a production designed by famed theatre-opera producer Achim Freyer (who just did LA Opera’s extraordinary – and controversial Wagner Ring), was first presented in the USA at Houston Grand Opera in October 1984 where I was privileged to see it -and be swept away as your Website host William and I were at Phillip Glass’ masterpiece “Appomattox(about the end of America’s Civil War) seen in San Francisco in 2007 – utterly an American War & Peace, a sensational, deliriously dramatic, gut-wrenching saga of Wagnerian scale which both William and I felt is a monumental American operatic masterpiece.

Mr Glass has done other biographical operas, like “Einstein on the Beach”, one about Mohandas Ghandi “Satyagraha“, “Galileo Galili”, “Keplerand hopefully more to come. This one focuses on the seventeen year reign of Pharoah Akhnaten whose world-famed wife was Nefertiti whose spectacular, gorgeous bust (now in Berlin) has to be the most famous ancient Egyptian work of art extant (Egypt wants it back, Germany emphatically says nein).

Mr Glass however, has created a trilogy, in his own words, based upon the enormous impact three hugely important figures have had upon human history: Einstein on the Beach assesses the great scientist Albert Einstein, Satyagraha evaluates Ghandi as a monumental political epoch-changer, and Akhnaten weighs the impact this singular man had upon religion.

Which brings us to the present turmoil in Egpyt in which President Mubarak has been besieged by those seeking more freedoms after one of the longest reigns in Egyptian history exceeded only by several ancient Pharoahs, many of whom also faced rebellion by the populace. Will Mr Mubarak get a Pyramid?

The Story in three Acts, is presented partly in the Egyptian language and is explained by a narrator in some detail — much needed by way of background to fully understand what’s happening. Act I opens with the death of Akhnaten’s grandfather Amenhotep III and the very opulent funerary arrangements so important in ancient Egypt — this is what the pyramids are all about, after all !! Then comes the grande coronation scene of Amenhotep IV, his given name with lots of lush,  brilliant music, followed by him singing after a long period of dramatic scenes, in praise to his Creator, and is joined by his stunning and now world-famed wife Nefertiti.

[Below: the bust of Queen Nefertiti; resized image, based on a photograph of the artifact in the Neues Museum, Berlin, from the collections of the Aegyptisches Museum, Berlin.]

Act II is five years later in Thebes with priests singing in praise to Amun-Ra, but shortly Amenhotep IV (soon to be Akhnaten) and his coterie attack the ancient temples and what he holds to be their antiquated religious doctrine, when suddenly the temple’s roof opens to reveal the rays of the sun (Aten) splashing in the temple’s environs, thus symbolically ending the reign of Amun-Ra and the beginning of Aten’s era. Later on very rich, romantic music accompanies Akhnaten and Nefertiti singing poems to each other in a very delicious musical scene.

The final scene of Act II is in the capital built by Akhnaten with brass fanfare and dancing, with a hymn to the one and only God Aten. Off stage a chorus sings Psalm 104 in Hebrew — giving force to the concept that Akhnaten was the originator of monotheistic religion.

Act III opens with the enemies of Akhnaten attacking his city, but he and Nefertiti seem oblivious to his world about to be sacked and disappear. Major figures of the old order of Amun appear in this dreadful scene resulting in the City of The Sun being destroyed and the Royal family murdered.

Amidst the ruins, the scene changes to modern-day Tel El Amarna with our narrator appearing as a tourist guide describing the splendor which once was. In the very moving, intensely dramatic Epilogue, the ghostly Royal Family re-appears wandering and singing amidst the ruins, and the opera ends with theme music from Glass’s Einstein on The Beach, one of the Glass trilogy noted above of Einstein, Akhnaten and Satyagraha tying together these three works as did Wagner with his Ring.

This production is in Long Beach’s large Terrace Theatre (like LA Opera’s Dorothy Chandler Auditorium at LA’s Music Center downtown) the directions to which we have set out below, plus where to park, where to stay nearby, and where to dine — some excellent choices like (hint) L’Opera Ristorante across the street !!

Tickets are available by phone at 562-432-5934, FAX 562 683-2109 and also online at www.longbeachopera.org and hurry, as this one may well sell out. It’s followed by a rollicking comedy by Dmitri Shostakovitch — Moscow, Cherry Town — coming up May 15, 18 and 22. This is a screamer about Moscovites scrambling, arguing, fighting, etc to get a new apartment in a time of severe housing shortages where bribes, rank, who-you-know, etc dominate the saga of those wanting in a glistening new Stalinesque apartment complex, all entangled in Soviet bungling and corruption — sounds like LA doesn’t it!!! I saw a Russian production of this and laughed myself silly, or sillier than usual . .   .  !!

Getting there and Parking

All the LA area freeways can take you to the Long Beach Freeway heading south to Long Beach. Keep going and follow the “Downtown Exits” signs to Shoreline Drive onto which the Long Beach Freeway (the 710) blends. Turn left at Pine Avenue then a right on Seaside Way to the parking areas.

The Long Beach Center For The Performing Arts (LBPAC) is up on the street level with Long Beach Opera in the Center Theater in back of the main building.

[Below: a daytime view of the Long Beach Center for the Performing Arts; photograph by Tom.]

The LBPAC (which we picture here) is at the bottom of Long Beach Blvd as it dead-ends on Ocean Blvd. At night the fountains are especially colorful, as we show!

[Below: a night-time view of the fountains in front of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center; photograph by Tom.]

You can exit the Long Beach Freeway slightly earlier if you want to drive to the restaurants we recommend below – get off on 6th Street going left and go to Long Beach Blvd turning right. You can’t miss LBPAC straight ahead at Ocean Blvd with its wonderful fountains (attracting all the appreciative resident sea gulls)! There is nearby street parking downtown and also parking lots.

Where to Stay

Looking directly at the LBPAC — by far the most convenient location — is the Westin Long Beach at 333 East Ocean Blvd at 562.436.3000 www.westin.com/longgbeach – by all means call, as you don’t have to pay rack rates. We picture this one for you to show how convenient it really is.

[Below: the Westin Long Beach, closest recommended hotel to the Long Beach Performing Arts Center; photograph by Tom.]

Another excellent choice close to the bayfront on Rainbow Harbor is the Hyatt Regency Long Beach at 200 South Pine Ave (you’ll see it if you follow our guide to parking noted above) at 562.491.1234. www.hyattregencylongbeach.com .

[Below: the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, in the vicinity of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center.]

All the usual chains are in Long Beach as well, but a really fun-dramatic stay is aboard the great ocean liner Queen Mary, which is also a floating hotel: www.QueenMary.com at 800 437-2934. Roaming the decks in the evening after dinner is totally unforgetable!!

[Below: a night-time view of the Queen Mary, now a hotel and entertainment center in Long Beach, California; photograph by Tom.]

The Dining Scene

Fortunately, downtown Long Beach has some fine restaurants very close at hand, and the tops for ambience and oh-so-appropriate since you’re going to the Opera – is L’Opera, a short block-walk away at the NW corner of Pine Ave and 1st Street, 101 Pine Ave at 562.491.0066 www.lopera,com  – very elegant, fine wines, white linen, flowers, tuxedoed waiters.

[Below: the front door of the restaurant, L’Opera, in Downtown Long Beach; photograph by Tom.]

From the Long Beach Peforming Arts Center (LBPAC)  just walk across the street going to the left of the fountains, crossing Ocean Blvd and walk the short hop to Pine, turn right and you’ll see it on the corner. The waitstaff sings opera (what did you expect given the name?) some of whom are terrific. Valet parking available – we picture this lovely restaurant.

For fine fresh seafood, excellent oyster bar, wines, cocktails, etc is the very traditional King’s Fish House just up the block from L’Operaon the corner of Broadway at 100 West Broadway 562.432.7463 www.kingsseafood.com . It comes off like an upscale London pub (see our photo).

Also in the operatic tradition, just a bit further at 301 Cedar Ave, is La Traviata serving the traditional elegant Northern Italian cuisine, named after Verdi’s beloved Opera, so what else? They, too, have waiters doing operatic numbers. From the LBPAC same directions as going to L’Opera, but instead of turning right on Pine, go two more short blocks to Cedar Ave and turn right. It’s www.LaTraviata301.com in a very elegant 19th Olde World setting.

[Below: the Long Beach Pike area, across from the Hyatt Regency and a short drive from the Long Beach Performing Arts Center; photograph by Tom.]

But for a truly unusual dinner setting, how about going aboard the the great British Ocean Liner The Queen Mary which is moored right in back of LBPAC. Very easy drive and well marked – you won’t miss her. You want the very elegant top-deck (i.e. First Class deck – you don’t want steerage class, do you?) named after Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Winston’s 562.435.3511 www.queenmary.com and sirwinstons@queenmary.com .


As always, none of us at Opera War Horses seek nor receive any goodies for our recommendations. Your Tipster has dined in all of these restaurants often and has stayed at the recommended hotels.

Tom Rubbert

See also Tom’s Reviews of Long Beach Opera atRichard M. Nixon and Mao Zedong Dance at Smashing Long Beach Opera “Nixon in China” – March 20, 2010

and  Vivaldi’s Revenge for Montezuma: 30 Year Old Long Beach Opera Mounts American Premiere of “Motezuma” – March 28, 2009.

Tags: Tom's Reviews