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Review: ‘Akhnaten’ Puts You on Philip Glass Time

With this trio and other set pieces, Mr. Glass does create something with the outlines of old-fashioned operatic structure. Act II concludes with an aria: Akhnaten’s pensive hymn to Aten, the young pharaoh’s most private moment and some of Mr. Glass’s most richly harmonic writing. Ms. Costanzo sings with exceptional tenderness while bringing out inflections in the music that hint at the character’s isolation and insecurity.

For Act II, Mr. Glass also perhaps came the closest in his career to writing a traditional operatic love duet, as Akhnaten and Nefertiti affirm their devotion in plaintive phrases that waft and intertwine, while the orchestra suggests their teeming inner emotions.

Wearing gauzy red robes with extravagantly long trains, Mr. Costanzo and Ms. Bridges seem at once otherworldly and achingly real. His ethereal tones combine affectingly with her plush, deep-set voice. Ms. Kamensek, while keeping the orchestra supportive, brings out the restless rhythmic elements that suggest the couple’s intensity.

The excellent cast also includes Richard Bernstein as Nefertiti’s father, Aaron Blake as a high priest and Will Liverman as the general who leads the assault on Akhnaten. The enormous ovation for Ms. Kamensek, one of just five female conductors in the Met’s history, was heartening. And Mr. Costanzo, who sang the title role when this production was introduced in London and later presented in Los Angeles, truly owns it.

The final scene shows a group of irreverent modern-day students in a classroom, tossing paper wads as a professor lectures them on the information gleaned from an excavation of the city Akhnaten built in praise of Aten. We see the ghosts of Akhnaten, Nefertiti and Queen Tye voicing forlorn, wordless refrains. Are they anxious about how history has remembered them?

Mr. Glass, 82, who received the biggest ovation when he appeared onstage, has no such worries. In a recent interview with The New York Times, asked about his legacy, and whether his music will endure, Mr. Glass said simply: “I won’t be around for all that. It doesn’t matter.”


Continues through Dec. 7 at the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center; 212-362-6000, metopera.org.

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