Since Napoleon’s Expedition in Egypt and the deciphering by Jean-François Champollion of the Rosetta Stone, our civilization has been fascinated by the history of Ancient Egypt. Pyramids, tombs, temples, statues and artefacts were discovered by generations of archaeologists who tried to make sense of a glorious pharaonic history that lasted several thousands of years. The objects and monuments they found were telling pieces of this history, while maintaining still a fair size of unsolved mysteries. The amazing treasure of the tomb of Tutankhamon revealed the extraordinary wealth and craft of his time. Our admiration is justified, but we know now that Tutankhamon was a minor pharaoh who did not leave a significant legacy after his short and young reign other than these wonderful treasures.
As a matter of fact, the monuments and artefacts that we’ll never find may tell us a far larger story than any of those we have unearthed till now. The story we are interested in happened 3000 years ago and had the potential to disrupt the course of history in an unprecedented way. It was so threatening to the established order of that time that all mentions to the name of the pharaoh who initiated it have been erased from every stone in Egypt. This name is Akhenaten, the pharaoh who fought for the first time the almighty power of the priests who were the only ones entitled to interpret the signs sent by the many gods the ancient Egyptians were worshipping. In an effort to unite Egypt and to take power back from the hands of the priests, Akhenaten decided to replace the cult of all gods by just one : the cult of Aten, creating the first monotheist religion on Earth. We all know the names and sometimes the story of his son Tutankhamon or his wife Nefertiti, but the general audience does not know anything about Akhenaten. Of course, this is not fully surprising since after all everything has been done by the establishment of that time to erase his name from history so no one would ever try to challenge again their power.
This is precisely what interests us today and why Hisham Abdel Khalek has been thinking about telling this story since 1999. Akhenaten illustrates the struggle of the religious elite for power and of the powerful elite to use religion as a tool to reinforce their rule over the people. This twin struggle still permeates our world today and the rise of the islamist fundamentalists after the Arab Spring is another illustration of how religion can be misused for the sake of consolidating power.
In order to tell the story of Akhenaten to a wider audience, we chose the form of the musical for its capacity to mix drama and entertainment in an accessible way. We chose to use Egyptian artists for the music and the book to root the story in the place it belongs and where it all started. Hesham Nazih is one of the most talented and prolific music composer in the Middle East and Mohamed Metwally is a rising talent, co-author with Hisham Abdel Khalek. Costumes will be designed by Giovanni Gobbi, an Italian designer specialized in period costumes for opera and theater. They will be made in Egypt to respect the rich authenticity of the pharaonic history. We intend to tour the show in the US and in Europe.
Olivier Delesse and Hisham Abdel Khalek