When asked to direct this production, I was at once delighted and overwhelmed. The music of Philip Glass is uniquely challenging, and the scope of Egyptian history is vast.
My ﬁrst step with any opera is always the music. Why was it written and orchestrated as it was? What did the libretto illuminate? And, most urgently, what was the real story being told? As I listened again and again, ideas began to form.
Parallel to this world of listening, I began doing research. Beyond the Tutankhamen exhibits which toured the United States, a few hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the opera Aida, my knowledge of Egypt was minimal. One of the great joys of my career is the continual expansion of knowledge that accompanies each project. New language, rich history, varied geography, fascinating social behavior, and apparel are revelations within each directorial assignment. I studied books, toured exhibitions, watched historical DVDs, and immersed myself in all things Egyptian, all the while continuing to listen to the music.
Each day as I listened to the score and continued my research, the media buzzed about the Arab Spring. As my knowledge of ancient Egypt increased, each day provided more awareness of modern Egypt. And there, in that synchronicity, was my answer.
Akhnaten was not Mubarak. His leadership did not purposefully limit the freedom of his citizens nor was he brutal to his people. However, he was a man who became increasingly uncaring about the daily needs of his country. While he was history making in his declaration of monotheism, he allied himself more with God than his citizens. Constructing a utopian city, surrounded by mountains and bordered by the Nile, he became philosophically, and literally, isolated from his people. As in modern-day Egypt, an historical populace continually marginalized by its leadership becomes a populace who will revolt.
The original work of Philip Glass concludes the opera with a modern look back at the Akhnaten era during the Ruins scene. I have added another modern scene during the opera’s Prelude and extended the Ruins scene—with a current reﬂection on life—as the opera concludes. Through the use of projections and present-day action, I invite you to consider the parallels of these two signiﬁcant eras.
When belief becomes obsession and rulers become myopic, the citizens will determine a new fate for themselves. History, as they say, certainly does repeat itself.