The last trip I took in 2019, just before the beginning of the pandemic, was an arts weekend with Alexandra in New York City. It was a quick trip into the city but we had a big agenda. The Metropolitan Opera was performing one of our favorite operas, Akhnaten by Phillip Glass. Words fail me; it is so amazing. I always love being in that iconic opera house with the best musicians in the world, from around the world. Fast forward to 2022, The Met Opera was performing Akhnaten again and you know since we are now officially groupies (very enthusiastic followers) that we had to repeat our trip of 2019 except for a longer visit and with warmer weather.
This was our third arts trip to NYC. Alexandra dearly loves the Big Apple and during college spent a semester and a summer interning and learning her way around. I’ve had just a few short visits, but with Alexandra’s city smarts and a free place to stay (thanks to my sister), we’ve decided to have an annual arts trip. There are plenty of fun and interesting things to do in NYC and something for everyone. But we have a particular interest in opera, ballet and art museums so we concentrate on those things. Plus some food/restaurants not available in my small town—real French croissants–yum.
We wanted to make up for the couple of years without live performances, so we made an ambitious itinerary to fit in everything we wanted to do. I went up early with a friend and saw Akhnaten on Wednesday and several museums. Alexandra joined me Thursday and we went to the New York City Ballet’s production of Midsummer’s Night Dream. I got very close seats and we enjoyed the nuances of each dance. The production was pure fantasy, the costumes were extravagant and sparkly and the new principal dancers were polished and gifted. We wished we had tickets to see it again just to delight in the beauty.
But Saturday afternoon was the main event, Akhnaten. So why am I so obsessed with this opera? Well, first I just love Phillip Glass’s music: minimal, repetitive and hypnotic. It puts me in a decidedly altered state, a reverie that calms my soul and opens my heart. Second, you know how I’m obsessed with ancient Egypt and this reimagine of a Pharaoh who first changed the world from polytheism to monotheism—we are still living in his influence today. Needless to say, he was not popular with those who wanted power and was wiped from the record books after his death. I encourage you to read about this remarkable Pharaoh. Akhnaten believed there was only one god, The Sun, Aten. My favorite part of the opera is The Hymn to the Aten, words written by Akhnatan, 3500 years ago. Always sung in the language where the opera is performed, the words are of love and dedication to the Divine. “You are in my heart, There is no other who knows you, Only your son, Whom you have taught your ways and your might.” As the hymn of praise finishes, Akhnaten slowly turns and becomes one with The Sun hanging low over the stage. It is one of my favorite moments in all of opera. The staging, singing, story and music all culminates in a grand spectacle, and I just love it. It will be several years before I have the opportunity to see it live again but the recorded version is on the Met Opera on Demand and I highly recommend taking the time to enter this remarkable portal into another time/space of ancient Egypt.
Alexandra and I wanted more, so we purchased cheap seats in the 4th balcony for the evening performance of Rigoletto by Verdi, a much more traditional opera but equally delightful in classic opera style. The cheap seats kept us from seeing the singers’ faces and costumes but the sound was crystal clear and beautiful. This was our second time to do two operas in one day and we would do it again. With a nice dinner in-between, it just seems like a perfect day to us.
We finished our time in NYC with more of The Metropolitan Museum, concentrating on the European paintings and some time on the lawn in Central Park soaking in the perfect late spring weather. I was a bit worried that I had scheduled a bit too much time in the big city for this country girl but in fact I enjoyed every minute of my visit dedicated to the arts in so many forms.
This was my personal way to spend time with what inspires my soul and fills my heart. Now I hope to encourage you to take time and do what inspires your joy and restores your heart. The world seems extra full of bad news and problems right now on top of two years of pandemic. We all seem to have our faith in humanity shaken to the core. But now more than ever, we need to find and do what restores our hope and fills us with the best of what humans can do as a reprieve from some of the worst actions. When I go to opera and ballet, I’m reminded of the amazing gifts that we have to produce what is good, noble and beautiful. When I go to an art museum, I’m reminded of the thousands of years of genius that shines through the hardship of life on this planet.