Post image for ‘Akhnaten’ marks first IU, Indy opera partnership

‘Akhnaten’ marks first IU, Indy opera partnership

January 11, 2013

Marking their first-ever collaboration, Indiana University Opera Theater — housed in the Jacobs School of Music — will present Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten” as part of the Indianapolis Opera season on March 8 and 9 at Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus in Indianapolis. The presentation will follow a series of IU Opera Theater performances in Bloomington’s Musical Arts Center at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 and 23 and March 1 and 2. “Akhnaten” will be the first Glass production either entity has performed.

“We are mounting the production in Bloomington and then taking it on the road — with our same cast and artistic team — to Indianapolis,” says Tim Stebbins, IU Opera executive director of production. “The Jacobs School and Indianapolis Opera have discussed such a partnership for several years, and we are thrilled that it has finally come to fruition. It is certainly a win-win situation for us, as well as for the citizens of Indiana.”

John Pickett, Indianapolis Opera executive director, agrees. “The collaboration of the state’s only fully professional opera company with IU Opera Theater — arguably the best opera education program in the world — only makes sense,” he says.

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The opera’s artistic team includes three guest artists — stage director Candace Evans, set designer Douglas Fitch, and lighting designer Todd Hensley. IU faculty members Arthur Fagen, Jacobs professor of orchestral conducting, and Linda Pisano, head of the Costume Design Program at the IU Department of Theatre and Drama, round out the group.

Evans says that her approach to this production — her first experience working with the music of Glass — has been inspired by the parallels between the reign of Akhnaten and the current unrest in Egypt.

“I will be incorporating video of modern Egypt into the opera, using images of the current conflict,” Evans says. “By incorporating this visual with onstage graffiti art, I hope to create an ‘entry’ into the world of ancient Egypt. Most of the opera takes place during ancient times, but the idea of opera as ‘history lesson’ doesn’t appeal to me. My vision is that of opera as ‘human lesson.’ We’re always just people, regardless of era, wardrobe, faith, or ruler.”

An opera in three acts, “Akhnaten” is based on the life and religious convictions of the Egyptian pharaoh by the same name. According to the composer, the work is the culmination of his two other biographical operas, “Einstein on the Beach” and “Satyagraha,” about Mohandas Gandhi. These three were each driven by an inner vision that altered the age in which they lived: Akhnaten in religion, Einstein in science, and Gandhi in politics.

The Feb. 22 and 23 performances of “Akhnaten” will be live-streamed via the IU Music Live site.

A free public discussion about the opera will be presented at noon Friday, Feb. 22, in Ford-Crawford Hall in Bloomington. “Akhnaten” librettist Shalom Goldman, research professor of religion at Duke University, will be on the panel, as well as leading the Feb. 23 pre-performance “Opera Insights” talk at 7 p.m. The panel will also include Evans, Fagen, and Egyptologist Steve Vinson, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the IU Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, in an in-depth overview of the creation of IU Opera’s latest production.