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Philip Glass

Publisher: Chester Music

Akhnaten (1983)
commissioned by the Württenbergisches Staatstheater, Stuttgart
Work Notes
Opera in three acts. Libretto (Egyptian, Arcadian, Hebrew, and language of the audience) by the composer in association with Shalom Goldman, Robert Israel and Richard Riddell. Vocal text drawn from original sources by Shalom Goldman.
Text Writer
composer in association with Sahlom Goldman, Robert Israel and Richard Riddell
Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
3 Hours 0 Minutes
Arcadian, Egyptian, Hebrew
Solo Instrument(s)
4 Sopranos, 4 Mezzo Sopranos, Countertenor, Tenor, Baritone, Bass

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Programme Note
Philip Glass Akhnaten (1983)
Akhnaten - countertenor
Nefertiti, wife of Akhnaten - alto or mezzo-soprano
Queen Tye, mother of Akhnaten - high soprano
High Priest of Amon - tenor
Horemhab, general and future Pharaoh - baritone
Aye, father of Nefertiti and advisor to the Pharaoh - bass

Secondary parts:
Six Daughters of Akhnaten - 3 sopranos, 3 mezzo-sopranos
The scribe - narrator
Priests - small chorus
The people of Egypt - large opera chorus

The third in Glass' trilogy of operas about men who changed the world in which they lived through the power of their ideas, Akhnaten's subject is religion. The Pharaoh Akhnaten was the first monotheist in recorded history, and his substitution of a one-god religion for the multi-god worship in use when he came to power was responsible for his violent overthrow. The opera describes the rise, reign, and fall of Akhnaten in a series of tableaux.


Act I Thebes, 1370 BC

Prelude - The High Priest of Amon prepares for the funeral of Amenhotep III. He is followed by the dead Pharaoh's son, who will be Amenhotep IV, and other members of the royal family: the Pharaoh's widow, Tye (the regent until her son comes of age); Aye, her brother, who was Amenhotep III's chief advisor; Horemhab, leader of the army; and Nefertiti, Aye's daughter and the young bride of the new Pharaoh.

The Funeral of Amenhotep III - Eight Amon priests enter with the dead Amenhotep III. They celebrate the rites of Isis, Osiris, and Horus. Amenhotep III begins a rite of passage through the temple of Amon. He is met by eight of the gods, who accompany him on his journey to the horizon.

The Coronation - Amenhotep IV is prepared for his coronation in a purification ceremony. He is crowned with the double crown of Egypt and greeted as the incarnation of Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris.

The Window of Appearances - The new Pharaoh draws the symbol of the Aten, the sun with its rays, on each of which is an ankh, the symbol of life. He will soon change his name Amenhotep ("Amon is pleased") to Akhnaten ("spirit of Aten"). The Amon High Priest cannot accept the affront to the old god Amon and leaves, while Akhnaten, Nefertiti and Tye, with whom perhaps the real power now lies, dance blasphemously through the Amon temple.

Act II

The Temple - The Amon priests, surrounded by totems representing the many gods of whom Amon was the most important, are overthrown by Akhnaten, Queen Tye and their followers; their gods and temple are destroyed.

Akhnaten and Nefertiti - Queen Tye teaches Akhnaten a poem to the Aten which he then teaches to Nefertiti. Tye gives over to Akhnaten the charge of Bekhetaten, believed by some commentators to have been their daughter. Aye and Horemhab announce that plans are ready for the building of Akhnaten's new capital, Akhnaten the "city of the Horizons of Aten". This is a further step to break the power of the old religion.

Hymn - The city is built. Akhnaten sings a hymn to the Aten and the chorus sings Psalm 104, the equivalent in the Hebrew religion. Aye is rewarded for his role in the building. Akhnaten tries to touch the sun.

Act III Akhnaten, 1358 BC

The Family - Akhnaten, Nefertiti and the six princesses live within the city walls. Aye and Horemhab read letters to him from princes in outlying provinces of the empire calling for help against hostile powers which are threatening their existence. Akhnaten refuses to listen and eventually even Aye turns against him, rejecting the many marks of favour with which he has been rewarded over the years. Aye takes Nefertiti and her eldest daughter away. Akhnaten is left with only two of his daughters. The High Priest of Amon returns to form a triumvirate with Aye and Horemhab to overthrow the Pharoah.

Attack and Fall - The High priest, Aye, Horemhab and some of the Amon priests destroy the city. Akhnaten disappears -- perhaps he blinds himself.

The Ruins - Akhnaten, the Present - A group of tourists and their guide visit the ruins of Akhnaten's city.

Epilogue - The spirits of Akhnaten, Nefertiti and Tye still haunt the ruins of the city. The fighting continues, wheat is threshed, bricks are made.

  • Ensemble
    The Stuttgart State Opera / Stuttgart State Orchestra / Stuttgart State Chorus
    Dennis Russell Davies
    Sony Masterworks:
  • Ensemble
    Conjunto Ibérico cello octet
    Elias Arizcuren
    Ibérico Records:
  • 11 FEB 2019
    English National Opera, London
    English National Opera
    Karen Kamensek, conductor

    Other Dates:
    7,2 March; 28,23,21,15 February - English National Opera, London
  • 17 MAR 2018
    Lourdes High School, Rochester, MN
    Rochester Symphony Orchestra
    Performing prelude to act I only

    Other Dates:
    18 March - Lourdes High School, Rochester, MN
  • 11 MAR 2018
    Directed by Laura Scozzi
    Bonn, Germany
    Beethoven Orchester Bonn
    Benno Schachtner, Echnaton; Susanne Blattert, Nofretete; Marie Heeschen, Teje; Giorgos Kanaris, Haremhab; Johannes Mertes, High Priest Amuns; Martin Tzonev, Ajeh; Rosemarie Weissgerber, Daughter; Sheva Tehoval, Daughter; Chor / Extrachor des Theater Bonn; Stephan Zilias, conductor

    Other Dates:
    16,23 March; 12,21,29 April; 9,13,31 May; 14,20,28 June - Bonn, Germany
  • 01 AUG 2017
    Salle Raoul-Jobin Palais Montcalm, Québec, QC, Canada
    Les Violons du Roy
    Performing select mvts only; Jonathan Cohen, conductor

    Other Dates:
    5 August - Salle Raoul-Jobin Palais Montcalm, Québec, QC, Canada
  • 05 NOV 2016
    Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Los Angeles, U.S.A
    Los Angeles Opera
    Grand Gershon, conductor

    Other Dates:
    10,13,17,27 November - Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Los Angeles, U.S.A
    19 November - Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Los Angeles, U.S.A
  • 04 MAR 2016
    The Coliseum, London
    English National Opera
    Karen Kamensek, conductor

    Other Dates:
    8,10,12,15,17,18 March - The Coliseum, London
  • 15 AUG 2015
    Piccolo Teatro Strehler, Milan, Italy
    Teatro Regio
    Enzo Restagno, conductor

    Other Dates:
    13 September - Auditorium Giovanni Agnelli,Turin, Italy
  • 15 AUG 2015
    Piccolo Teatro Strehler, Milan, Italy
    Teatro Regio
    Enzo Restagno, conductor

    Other Dates:
    13 September - Auditorium Giovanni Agnelli,Turin, Italy
  • 15 AUG 2015
    Piccolo Teatro Strehler, Milan, Italy
    Teatro Regio
    Enzo Restagno, conductor

    Other Dates:
    13 September - Auditorium Giovanni Agnelli,Turin, Italy
  • 13 FEB 2015
    Opera d'Anvers, Belgium
    Opera de Flandres

    Other Dates:
    15,17,19,21 February - Opera d'Anvers, Belgium
    10,4,6,8 March - Opera de Gand, Belgium
  • 14 NOV 2014
    Theatre de l'Archipel Perpigan, France
    Conservatoire de Perpignan
    Daniel Tosi, conductor
  • 05 AUG 2014
    Adelaide, Australia
    State Opera of South Australia and Adelaide Art Orchestra

    Other Dates:
    23 August - Adelaide, Australia
  • 06 JUN 2014
    Echnaton - Oper und Ballett
    Heidelberg, Germany
    Ensembles des Theater Heidelberg
    Dietger Holm, Róbert Farkas, conductor

    Other Dates:
    21 September; 5,8,12,15,24,28 March 2015; 24 May 2015 - Heidelberg, Germany
  • 10 MAY 2014
    Hanau, Germany
    Neue Philharmonic Frankfurt
    Lloyd-Gonzalez, conductor
  • 13 APR 2013
    Tempelhof Hanger 2 Berlin, Germany
    Kerstin Behnke, conductor
  • 22 FEB 2013
    Bloomington, IN
    Indiana University and Indianapolis Opera
    Arthur Fagan, conductor

    Other Dates:
    23-28 February; 1-3,9,7,4,8,5,6 March - Bloomington, IN
  • 14 SEP 2011
    Tanunda Barossa Valley, AUSTRALIA
    Burnside Symphony Orchestra
  • 19 MAR 2011
    Long Beach, CA
    Long Beach Opera
    Andreas Mitisek, conductor

    Other Dates:
    27 March - Long Beach, CA
  • 16 OCT 2009
    Berlin, Germany
    Deutsche Filmorchester Babelsberg and Beline Capella
    Kerstin Behnke, conductor

    Other Dates:
    17 October - Parochialirche, Germany
  • 08 NOV 2008
    Funeral Music
    Mobile, AL
    Mobile Symphony
    Scott Speck, conductor

    Other Dates:
    9 November - Mobile, AL
  • 31 MAY 2008
    Munich, Germany
    State Museum of Egypt Arts
  • 31 MAR 2006
    Minimalist Jukebox: Scenes from 'Akhnaten'
    Los Angeles, CA
    Los Angeles Philharmonic
    John Adams, conductor

    Other Dates:
    1,2 April - Los Angeles, CA
  • 17 SEP 2004
    Oakland Opera Theater, Oakland, California
    Oakland Opera
    Deirdre McClure, conductor

    Other Dates:
    18-30 September; 1-3 October - Oakland Opera Theater, Oakland, California
  • 14 MAY 2004
    Oakland Opera, Oakland, USA
    Oakland Opera
    Deirdre McClure, conductor

    Other Dates:
    15-30 May - Oakland Opera, Oakland, USA
  • 01 MAY 2003
    Oakland Opera Theatre, Oakland, CA
    Oakland Opera
    Deirdre McClure, conductor
  • 26 SEP 2002
    Teatr Wielki w Todzi
    Lodz, Poland
    Tadeusz Kozlowski, musical director / Henryk Baranowski, director / Iliana Alvarado, choreographer

    Other Dates:
    27 September - Lodz, Poland
  • 21 SEP 2002
    Strasbourg, France
    Opéra National du Rhin
    Mary Zimmerman, director; Dante Anzolini, conductor
  • 16 MAY 2002
    Netley, South Australia
    Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
    Timothy Sexton, conductor

    Other Dates:
    17,18,23-25 May - Netley, South Australia
  • 18 OCT 2001
    Dabrowskiego, Poland
    Teatr Wielki W Todzi
    Tadeusz Kozlowski, conductor

    Other Dates:
    24,25 October - Dabrowskiego, Poland
  • 05 OCT 2001
    Amsterdam, Holland
    Muziektheater Hollands Diep
    Neal Stulberg, conductor

    Other Dates:
    6,10-13 October - Amsterdam, Holland

Glass’s score may seem simple, but it’s actually very clever, with Baroque interpolations punctuating the minimalist figurations, and luminous shifts from minor to major.
Michael Church, The Independant,05/03/2016
What is important in Glass' scores is not what's doing in the music, but what the music is doing in the concert hall, and within the minds of the listeners. The genius of this composer is his ability to purge the ears and the minds of their preconceptions, and to create the musical universe anew.
The Star-Ledger,06/11/1984
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