it's deplorable that not every one of Glass's operas are not available on VHS or DVD. Nothing is! Why? He sells well in the market?
"Akhnaten" is actually the only Glass music I've grown to admire, the first two operas 'Einstein on The Beach' and 'Satyagraha' were learning experiences for everyone, the early pillars of this 'Trilogy'. Akhnaten is as Wagner's Parsifal a summation and coagulation of creative materials only tried in the first two operas. Here Glass now actually reused material from Satyagraha for Akhnaten where this work settles into the very well known cloistered world of 19th Century opera with duets, and discreet self-contained arias,trios, and chorus declamations.
Glass's achievement is that his operas however are (as he says himself here) music theatre, not operas, where the singing is the performance, the content is in the singing, not the content of its text projected with meaning cause and affect, goal oriented plot, which certainly the audience never comprehends,Glass here makes the timbre of the singing the content, and this is why I think we are compelled by it. It eradicates the sense of time, of knowing of being within a particular place at a particualr time, Violetta's concubinage Paris party, or in front of Brunnhilde's growing fiery funeral tomb rock.
We see Glass on tour traveling by bus with his group,arduously giving lectures,not on this VHS,but as part of his performances. I take it,Glass didn't like speaking,he didn't seem to summon much enthusiasm for it. He is a overlabored, dull,timid speaker. I think he thinks more about his work,and this part of his creativity hasn't made it through the technique of public speaking.
He does however speak very well about his work to the camera as we follow him to India and Egypt visiting Akhnaten's one room museum.
We are also let in on high level meetings amongst the Glass cadre of creators,sometimes at greasy spoon-like restaurants in New York City,or sitting around someone's apartment with cheap styrofoam coffee cups. Writers as Constance de Jong, stage directors Achim Freyer and David Freeman all speak well of their work on Glass. Certainly Robert Wilson who he met for lunch every Thursday in New York.Also Conductor Dennis Russell Davies are all here a devoted champion of the Glass world of expression. We see all of them in rehearsals at The Houston Opera Company, John DeMain a more manstream Music Director.And wonderful singers as counter-tenor Paul Esswood who played Aky and Christopher Robson.Also wonderfully sensuous Nefertitis as Milagro Vargas and Marta Senn we see in rehearsals. You really come away from this VHS with quite a bit of useful information on how not only a particular opera is produced and rehearsed but the initial budding beginnings of a work, its humble opaque incompleteedness;As for instance two years of work,research ocean hopping preceeded before a Director for the opera even contemplates the work with Glass.
Glass very much knows what he wants most of the time, and fends off any broader all encompassing questions as Achim Freyer's question through a translator on the political dimensions of Akhnaten,comparisons with Stalin or other tyrants. And Glass usefully replies"(paraphrasing) I don't think in such terms. . .,let each audience listener come to their own meaning. . . " The work is not a labyrinth of expressive dramatic openendedness. It is possible to think a little more deeply on the social and political dimensions of ancient Egypt. In fact that is whjere the real interesting [parts of ancient civilizations reside. The problem becomes, the more we think in those terms, the more we see the barren incompletedness and skewed historical aspects the operas avoid and never deal with.Opera or for Glass music-drama is about a "buzz" ( a Peter Sellars term)take the "Buzz" and go with it, or else you have nothing. The reality was that the Glass team never actually knew who Akhnaten was really, only faint,incomplete data. He had breasts,had a powerful intellect,and a deep expressiveness, was perhaps misshapened judging from the statues in Egypt of him, with thunder thighs,distended,an almost unacceptable pear shaped body, meaning not interesting to look at,yet seductive oddly.
We also see Glass at his writing desk and at the piano, reflecting on the wonderous aesthetic darkness that 'Akhnaten' had reflected and that he was able to capture, largley through minor modes of tonality.