Wednesday, November 23, 2011


On Saturday I went to see “Satyagraha,” Philip Glass’s opera about Gandhi, his formative years in South Africa, live in HD at a local theatre. The title means “truth force,” and the text of the opera is taken from the “Bhagavad Gita.” It’s hard to believe that opera singers could sing the whole thing in Sanskrit, but they did. I couldn’t imagine how this could be opera material, but it is, and it is dramatic in a minimalist way that I would describe as stunning, so different from the typical opera in which cataclysmic events occur and the characters thrash about.

The music with its persistent rhythm, repetition and throbbing continuation until I thought it couldn’t go any farther - but it did - carried me along relentlessly. Midway through I wished I could get up and move - I had difficulty staying seated. I really wanted to dance around the theatre even though I would not describe Glass’s music as dance music.

The acting, all of it, was superb. And the enormous puppets and puppeteers created a kind of drama I have never seen. These puppets, whose “skin” looks like newsprint, are gigantic as well as sinister. They give a visual form to the evil forces that Gandhi encountered, at least this is my interpretation of their function in the opera.

Three people important to Gandhi at different points in his life also make an appearance in the opera: Leo Tolstoy, the Indian poet Tagore, and Martin Luther King.

The encore broadcast of this opera in theatres will be 14 January 2012. And no, I am not getting paid by the Met for this blog post.

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