John Deaderick: Sierra Cinemas presents ‘Akhnaten’ in Grass Valley |

John Deaderick: Sierra Cinemas presents ‘Akhnaten’ in Grass Valley

Know & Go

WHO: Sierra Cinemas The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

WHAT: “Akhnaten”

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 9:55 a.m.

WHERE: Sierra Cinemas, E. Main Street Grass Valley

TICKETS: $23 Adults, $21 Seniors, $18 Children 12 and under & students with ID; Available online at or at the Sierra Cinemas Box Office

INFO:, 530-477-9000

This Saturday Grass Valley’s Sierra Cinemas presents the Met Opera Live in HD performance of Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten.”

Generally considered as the father of monotheism, the short reign of Pharaoh Akhnaten was marked by a radical shift from traditional religious practice. As is often the case with religious reformers, this did not go well. Ascending the throne as Amenhotep IV, the Pharaoh took the name Akhnaten in honor of the one god he worshipped, often identified with the sun. He angered the priestly class and his reforms were not widely accepted. His reign ended violently, his monuments destroyed, has name erased from history until archaeological discoveries in the 19th century. The public awareness of the husband of Nefertiti and the father of Tutankhamun has been shaped by the best selling novel “The Egyptian” by Mika Waltari, later made into a rather good film.

American composer Philip Glass’ opera is unlike anything you’ve seen, I would guess. Both spare and lavish at the same time, bold in its presentation, sung in English, Akkadian, and Hebrew, “Akhnaten” seems to aim at recreating the mysticism of its source material. Glass wrote the libretto himself and included passages from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This work is more accessible than some of his other works. Of course, there are the typical Glass trademarks: simple melodic repetitions, a trance-like continuation of a musical line apparently into infinity, big choruses. The role of Akhnaten is sung by a countertenor, a voice we’re not used to hearing all that often outside of Händel and other works originally written for castratti.

This should be extraordinary. The production stills can be seen at the Met website, and they’re gorgeous. If you can go with an open mind and ear, and allow the experience to take you where one normally doesn’t expect to go in the opera house, you might be pleasantly amazed.

John Deaderick is a local theatre artist and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at

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