(Photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging)
(Photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging)

The word "pharaoh" often elicits vivid images of almighty rulers taking the ancient world by storm, their magnificent pyramids transcending time to maintain their reign over the Kemet deserts.

The LA Opera's rendition of "Akhnaten," written by composer Philip Glass in 1983, premiered at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Nov. 5. Directed by Phelim McDermott and conducted by Matthew Aucoin, the production resurrected the colors and splendor of ancient Egypt, taking audiences back to a time when kings ruled as Gods.

Akhnaten, or Akhenaten, the husband of the better-known Nefertiti, carved his place in history when he disrupted the polytheistic religion of ancient Egypt. He established a more monotheistic belief in the god Aten, who essentially represented the sun as the source of all life. As pharaoh, he was the "son of the sun," Aucoin said in a pre-show discussion.

The opera explores this religious transition with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in the titular role. Among one of the higher male vocal ranges, Costanzo gave the character a more feminine—or at least a less definitively male—quality.

"There is very little that we know for sure, but the possibilities include that he was what we would today call transgender," Aucoin said. "There are portraits of him with breasts and an unconventional physique for a male ruler."

Any ancient Egypt enthusiast can appreciate the show, but it doesn't take any special knowledge of the civilization to appreciate "Akhnaten's" engaging storyline and stunning visual aesthetic. It was easy to melt into the rhythm of the opera and forget time. Whether they were bringing ancient hieroglyphs to life behind a transparent screen or performing hypnotic juggling choreographies, it was almost as if the the cast members were seducing the audience, in sync with Glass's subtle but dynamic score.

"Akhnaten" will run again on Nov. 10, 13, 17, 19, and 27. Visit http://www.laopera.org/season/16-17-season/akhnaten/ for show times and tickets.

Contact staff writer Agnessa Kasumyan at agnessakas@gmail.com