Emory Report
January 20, 2009
Volume 61, Number 16

Events surrounding Philip Glass’ ‘Akhnaten’ visit

Friday, Jan. 23 at 8 p.m.
& Sunday, Jan. 25 at 5 p.m
Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten” performed by The Atlanta Opera.
Emerson Hall, Schwartz Center.
Event is sold out. (Call to
be put on a waiting list for tickets for Emory employees
and students by calling

Thursday, Jan. 22
Colloquium on Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten.”
Richard Kagey, Atlanta Opera, presenting.
2:30–3:50 p.m. Emerson Hall, Schwartz Center. Free.

Panel discussion: “Historical and Imagined Akhnaten.” Melinda Hartwig, Georgia State University; Shalom Goldman, Emory; and Richard Kagey, Atlanta Opera. 7 p.m. Reception Hall, Carlos Museum. Free.

F riday, Jan. 23
Pre-Opera Talk with Carter Joseph, Atlanta Opera.
7–7:30 p.m., Emerson Hall, Schwartz Center.
For Jan. 23 “Akhnaten” ticket holders only.

Sunday, Jan. 25
Public Pre-Opera Conversation with Composer Philip Glass
and Shalom Goldman.
3:30–4:30 p.m. Glenn Memorial Auditorium. Free.

Monday, Jan. 26
Creativity Conversation with Philip Glass. 4 p.m. Carlos Museum, Reception Hall. Free.

Philip Glass Introduces
Public Screening of Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun.”

6:30 p.m. introduction;
7:15 p.m. screening. 208
White Hall. Free. www.filmstudies.emory.edu.

For more information on “Akhnaten” events visit


Emory Report homepage  

January 20
, 2009
‘Singing archaeology’ behind opera

By kim urquhart

At the Southeastern premiere of “Akhnaten” performed by The Atlanta Opera Jan. 23 and 25, Shalom Goldman will have the best seats in the house, and by his own admission, tears in his eyes. The professor of Hebrew and Middle Eastern Studies helped write the vocal text of Philip Glass’ visionary opera, which imagines the story of the Egyptian pharaoh believed by many scholars to be the father of King Tutankhamun.

“I’ve gone to different countries and cities to see ‘Akhnaten’ produced, and it always knocks me out,” says Goldman. The Emory performance celebrates the opera’s 25th anniversary, and complements two Carlos Museum exhibitions on view through May 25: “Wonderful Things: The Harry Burton Photographs and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun” at the museum and “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” at the Atlanta Civic Center.

Goldman first met the renowned composer in New York City in 1981. At a mutual friend’s party in the East Village, the two began talking: Glass had just been commissioned by the Stuttgart Opera to create “Akhnaten,” and Goldman, a graduate student at New York University studying the ancient Near East, had just returned from Egypt. Learning about Goldman’s abilities to read hieroglyphics and translate ancient Middle Eastern languages, Glass recruited Goldman for the team developing the libretto.

Creating an opera about Akhnaten — the religious revolutionary whom subsequent pharaohs sought to erase from history — was a process based upon fragments from ancient texts that Goldman describes as “singing archaeology.” Goldman inspired Glass to visit Egypt to discover the pharaoh’s story.

In the beginning, Goldman served as “the research guy,” the resident scholar and guide who helped the team form a picture of who Akhnaten might have been. He was responsible for collecting, and sometimes translating, material gathered from stone inscriptions and burial sites in the “lost city” of Akhnaten. “This was, of course, long before the Internet,” laughs Goldman, who spent “days and days in the old libraries of New York, finding photographs and texts from Akhnaten’s time.”

Glass later asked Goldman to help fashion the texts he unearthed into a story, and Goldman became an official writer for the opera, shaping the libretto along with Glass, Robert Israel and Richard Riddell. For example, a love poem uncovered on a gold leaf found in a royal sarcophagus of the Armana period perhaps written by Akhnaten’s queen, Nefertiti, would inspire the second act. The goal was to create a living work out of dead languages, Goldman explained.

In keeping with the opera’s authenticity, Goldman wrote the vocal texts in three languages spoken during Akhnaten’s time: ancient Egyptian, Biblical Hebrew and Akkadian. In addition, the opera would feature an actor reciting ancient Egyptian texts in English, or the language of the specific performance’s audience.

Performed worldwide, “Akhnaten: An Opera in Three Acts for Orchestra, Chorus and Soloists” has also become “a very beautiful and successful CD recording,” notes Goldman. He had been a “passionate lover of music and of opera, but this was my first real connection to a performance production,” says Goldman, who still recalls the excitement of the opera’s 1984 premiere in Stuttgart, Germany.

Goldman will again engage with his friend Glass, who will be on campus to participate in several public events in conjunction with the sold-out “Akhnaten” performances, at a pre-opera conversation on Jan. 25. On Jan. 26, Glass will discuss how his collaborations with artists ranging from Woody Allen to Allen Ginsberg have fed his own creativity in a “Creativity Conversation” with Emory’s Rosemary Magee, and introduce a free screening of Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun” (Glass, active in Tibetan causes, composed the Academy Award-winning score for the film about His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama.)

Glass’ Emory visit is made possible by co-sponsorship from the Carlos Museum, the Emory Coca-Cola Artists-in-Residence Program, the Emory University Creativity & Arts Initiative, the Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts, an anonymous friend of the arts at Emory, and the Flora Glenn Candler Concert Series.

Akhnaten podcast
Learn about Akhnaten in the Carlos Conversations podcast, “The Shock of the New: Akhnaten, Tutankhamun, and the Religious Imagination.” Carlos Curator of Egyptian Art Peter Lacovara, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies Shalom Goldman, and Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Art History Gay Robins explore the radical changes to Egyptian religion and art brought about by the “heretic” pharaoh Akhnaten, the restoration of the traditional religion during the reign of his son, Tutankhamun, and the place that both these kings, despite their rather short reigns, hold in the popular imagination. Listen at carlos.emory.edu/podcasts.