Modern opera travels from IU to BU

Photo courtesy of IU Opera Theater

Packed up and delivered all the way from Indiana University, “Akhnaten” comes to life on stage at Clowes Memorial Hall this weekend.

Indianapolis Opera partnered with IU’s opera theater program to present this modern production about the Egyptian  pharaoh Akhnaten.

The partnership between IU and Indy Opera has been in the works for a number of years.

They have finally collaborated to bring this work to the stage in Indianapolis.

“It’s silly for two opera entities to be so close and have so little to do with each other,” said Jim Caraher,  artistic director for Indianapolis Opera. “When we decided to collaborate, we thought, ‘Why not pick an opera that is really out of the norm for us, one that we couldn’t do on our own?’”

Caraher is hoping that this performance spurs interest for the Indy Opera to do more things like it.

The cast of “Akhnaten” is completely made up of Indiana University students except for one.  The leads are double cast while the chorus remains the same.

The whole creative team is coming from Bloomington as well.

The production is based on the controversial reign of Pharaoh Akhnaten. He changed the face of the Egyptians’ religion by declaring they would no longer worship the Four Sons of Horus but one god, Aten, or the sun god. His 17-year rule ended when the people revolted, took back their city and restored their religion.

The plot sounds similar to recent events as Egypt has ousted the leadership of Hosni Mubarak.  Between the show and reality, it’s like history is repeating itself, which is the very theme that starts and ends the show.

“Each day as I listened to the score and continued my research, the media buzzed about the Arab Spring,” said Candace Evans in her director’s notes for “Akhnaten.”

“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.”

Chorus members start by acting out scenes directly from a TV newscast while a screen shows images and quotes referring to the Mubarak situation. And the notion of history repeating itself is left with audience members at the opera’s conclusion.

The parallels between the show and recent events are not the only interesting elements entwined in “Akhnaten.”

“The design is beautiful, very visually engaging,” said Deborah Jo Barrett, stage manager for Indianapolis Opera. “The costumes are incredible. There is no way you can miss Akhaten and his wife. The whole thing is very beautiful.”

Differing from traditional operas, the music does not always tell the story. Caraher said a narrator  comes out and explains the plot. Sometimes, the audience just sits and watches the balletic choreography and pantomime. The different languages sung in the show are not barriers.

The opera comes to Indianapolis after a four-show run in Bloomington.

“It’s not your typical opera or Broadway musical,” Barrett said. “It deals with current events as well. It’s just a wonderful theatrical experience, not something you’re going to see very often.”

“I hope the audience allows themselves to be hypnotized by this different show,” Caraher said. “I think it’s brilliant and fascinating.

“I almost hope there is a difference of opinion so that people talk about why they liked it or didn’t like it. Art is supposed to create controversy so that you can talk about it and create a buzz.”

“Akhaten” will have two performances at Clowes Memorial Hall on March 8 and 9 at 8 p.m.


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