Ask any schoolboy or girl: "What did the ancient Egyptians do for us?" and likely as not you'll get the stock reply: invented wine gums and scratchy (papyrus) toilet paper. So far so intra-curricula.
In fact, as a new production by the Dorset National Opera makes clear, the Egyptians gave us many things including opera itself, an accidental invention of the 18th dynasty when a building strike at Karnak forced the ruling pharaoh Akhn'brian to improvise by rubbing two high priests together inside an unfinished pyramid to see if the vibrations could seal the chamber without manual intervention. The result was not a success in constructional terms and, like the technique of microwave yoghurt-based mummification, it would have to wait several decades before perfection. However, a happy, if unforeseen, outcome was that the noise emitted "from all orifices" was such that, once one or two sanitary issues were addressed, a form of entertainment was established at once "poignant, unearthly and indescribably messy". "Droning, screaming, imploring and squeaking" were to become part of the established vocabulary of ancient Egyptian opera; whilst the opera itself soon became a metaphor for filth-based carnage on an unprecedented scale*. In any event, the results were startling.
* These early associations of opera with filth (and by extension excess and low morals) may
critics believe, have forever established the idea of the theatre as "a den of vice and
vibrating priests". It is worth adding, that nudity on stage was - then as now - common,
though not for gratuitous or dramaturgical reasons but rather to save on dry cleaning.
Now, at last, the cognoscenti have an opportunity to judge the success of Egyptian opera for themselves as Dorset National Opera present an extended (3 day) run of Akhn'brian: The Opera in a reconstruction by University of Afpuddle Threadbone Chair of Egyptology Professor Kai Roe. Focusing on the last years of the controversial Pharaoh's reign (he famously banned coltsfoot rock from rebirth ceremonies, nationalised Agatha Christie productions and ordered all Egyptians regardless of age, gender or shoe-size to mute all mobile communication devices when entering the temple), the opera tells of his love for Queen Neffer'mind and their still unexplained disappearance on 1st April 1353 BC at the Memphis Line-Dancing Championships. They were lying in 2nd place at the time. These days, Akhn'brian is best remembered not as the inventor of an entirely new way of stacking pancakes on a maple syrup base, but rather as the father both of the Ahten Bomb (an ice-cream-based confection baked in a clay oven until soft) and of Tut'ankpiece, the boy-king who achieved lasting fame when his un-looted tomb was discovered by Howard Threadboneham-Carter [HERE] and the world learned exactly how Egyptian pharaohs mounted the objects of their desire.
Perfomances at 7.45, The Royal Opera House, Chilfrome. Latecomers not admitted until the interval. Ice-creams £3.50 per 100ml tub.