March Equinox performance of the Philip Glass opera Akhnaten, outdoors, on Mount Alexander, Mica Grange Garden, Sutton Grange, central Victoria, March 19 and 20, 2016.
US countertenor Nicholas Tamagna makes his Australian debut as Akhnaten, the Egyptian Pharaoh who, breaking with tradition, said there was One god, All, which he called the Aten, and likened to the sun.
Australia’s Sally Wilson sings Nefertiti, Akhnaten’s wife and queen. Sally sang the role in Berlin.
Featuring The Consort of Melbourne.
International conductor David Kram directs.
Mica Grange is one of Victoria’s most beautiful and celebrated gardens, on the slopes of Mount Alexander. The 40-hectare property has featured in Australian Country Gardens, the Royal Horticulture Society of Victoria gazette and Australian Country magazine. The performances coincide with the Mica Grange Autumn Sculpture Exhibition. The creative works of leading sculptors will be on display in the garden.
“One of the stars of his show is the setting, the slopes of Mount Alexander, views stretching across the sky and land,” said event organiser Michael Gillies Smith.
Mount Alexander, known as Lanjanuc to the Jaara Jaara people, was the location of a sacred ceremonial ground.
Nicholas, a rising star of the North American and European stages, is a Handel, Baroque and new music specialist. He made his London debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at the end of the 2015 season in a piece written for him by Syrian composer Zaid Jabri. He has given recitals at Carnegie Hall and Avery Fischer Hall in New York. He is fast becoming a headline act at leading European festivals.
“We are lucky to be catching Nicholas on the way up,” said Michael. “I have long admired his Akhnaten. It’s wonderful to present him to Australian audiences in this role.”
Nicholas said: “Akhnaten must be one of the most challenging roles ever written for countertenor. I feel in order to effectively sing it, I must surrender in a way to the trance state that Glass is creating. However subtle, there is a shift happening in his music from measure to measure, whether it’s in the orchestration or in the slight resetting of the rhythm. And the audience feels this over time, but cannot necessarily pinpoint what has changed. I find this is a beautiful musical representation of what time is like. We experience time so slowly that we often cannot see the shifts and changes until we look back and see where we came from and where are now. Glass forces us to be present, however, and experience life as it is meant to be experienced, in the now. This in many ways mirrors the Buddhist philosophy he has adopted in his own life, and we get to experience it as singers and learn what it is to be in the now. In a way, I see the use of minimalist techniques, such as repetition, as a form of prayer. You set an intention and continue to replicate it till it manifests as reality. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Glass shortly after the production in Indiana, and can say firsthand that his calming yet inspiring presence is something that is clearly translated from his mind to the page, and I hope to translate this affect that seems to be so intrinsically linked with both Glass the person and his music.
“I am thrilled to be making my debut in Australia. Australia is a country that I have had the pleasure of exploring in the last couple of years in a very personal way with my partner, a native Australian. “Since I first visited in 2014, I have fallen in love with the people and the beautiful vistas Australia has to offer, including our breathtaking backdrop for this production of Akhnaten. When I first came, I had in my mind that one day I would come and sing here, and sure enough two years later here we are. Intentions are powerful things. I am grateful for the chance to bring this wonderful opera to more people around the world. It is an opera that has certainly been an important vehicle in my own career since 2013, and one that continues to surprise me every time I crack open the score. I hope you will enjoy exploring this fascinating historical figure and the musical interpretations of this master American composer.”
Akhnaten was Pharaoh of Egypt for 17 years till his death around 1335 BC. The opera includes words from Akhnaten himself, his Hymn to the Aten, and other ancient texts from the period. Akhnaten was the father of Tutankhamun. There were global media reports in December, 2015, that Nefertiti’s tomb had been found in the Valley of the Kings, though these have not been confirmed.
The March Equinox, March 20 in 2016, is a special time of year. Earth is in balance with the sun. Day and night are equal in length in all parts of the world. “It’s a time to centre and come together, as one cycle ends and a new one begins,” said Michael. For thousands of years, many cultures have marked and celebrated the March Equinox. UNESCO recognises it as part of the world’s Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The performances start at 5pm and finish about 7pm. There is one 20 minute interval. Wine and cheese platters available, featuring Mount Alexander Wines and Holy Goat cheese of Sutton Grange.
$85/$75 concession (Lawn, bring a rug, cushion or low folding chair).
$125/$115 concession (Table and chairs for 2, 4 or more, table service).
Bookings: Click here.