We're just finishing up the American Century, the remarkable notion that one country remained King of the Hill on planet Earth for 100 years. And few of us even tried to get our thoughts around adding up 10 of those centuries into a millennium.
Maybe that's why, more than ever, we're fascinated by the ancient Egyptians. A century? For them, it was hardly a single good-sized dynasty. And they had 20 of those. Millenniums? Ancient Egypt stretched into three, maybe more.
In New York this weekend, The Metropolitan Museum of Art wraps up its "Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids," a blockbuster look at the Old Kingdom (2675 BC to 2130 BC), considered the apex of that civilization.
But interest goes far beyond the top of the arts food chain. Some 250,000 people saw the "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, which ended last fall. Even mass-marketer Disney has gone Egyptian. It will follow up last year's animated "The Prince of Egypt" with a new live musical: "Aida," the story of a tragic love triangle among long-ago royalty, is headed for Broadway.
But nobody seems more eager for Egypt than the arts institutions here in New England. "Egypt in Boston" aims to keep locals and visitors madly chariot-hopping between events for an entire year.
Through Feb. 29, the Museum of Science is showing the big-screen IMAX film "Mysteries of Egypt" (my mother and sister, the amateur Egyptologist, visited the Pyramids, but courtesy of this spectacular film I've flown over them).
The Boston Lyric Opera's all-Egypt season follows up its ambitious "Ada," by Verdi, with "Akhnaten," by Philip Glass, and "The Magic Flute," by Mozart.
The Boston Ballet's "Cleopatra" will conclude it all in May, with music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
But the centerpiece has to be "Pharaohs of the Sun: Akhnaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen," on display at the Museum of Fine Arts until Feb. 6. By way of 267 pieces from 35 museums, including two colossal statues that have never left Egypt before, it tells the story of Akhnaten, the pharaoh who broke with tradition to worship one God, leaving a remarkable though still mysterious legacy.
Will the joint effort work, creating more attendance for everyone? That's the hope. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if one young person went to the Museum of Science and then wanted to go to the Egyptian opera or ballet?" David Ellis, the Museum of Science director, told the Boston Herald last fall. "I think that would be a rather exciting crossover." It would indeed.
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