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  1. #1
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Glass: Satyagraha on Live in HD

    Met in HD series, November 19th, 2011 (Live) and December 7th, 2011 (Encore)
    Opera in 3 acts by Philip Glass, sung in Sanskrit
    Libretto by Philip Glass and Constance DeJong, after the Bhagavad Gita

    Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Dante Anzolini

    Stage Director - Phelim McDermott
    Set Designer - Julian Crouch
    Costume Designer - Kevin Pollard
    Video Director - Barbara Willis Sweete
    Live in HD Host - Eric Owens

    Acrobats, Puppet Masters - Skills Ensemble

    Cast in vocal order of appearance

    M. K. Gandhi - tenor, Richard Croft
    Prince Arjuna - bass, Bradley Garvin
    Lord Krishna - bass, Richard Bernstein
    Miss Schlesen - soprano, Rachelle Durkin
    Mrs. Naidoo - soprano, Molly Fillmore
    Kasturbai - mezzo, Maria Zifchak
    Mr. Kallenbach - baritone, Kim Josephson
    Parsi Rustomji - bass-baritone, Alfred Walker
    Mrs. Alexander - mezzo, Mary Phillips

    This praised co-production of the Metropolitan Opera and the English National Opera opened in London in 2007 and New York City in 2008. It was revived in 2010 in London, and again in New York City in 2011, as part of the Met Live in HD series.

    Glass' opera was commissioned by the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and premiered there in 1980, performed by the Netherlands Opera and the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra under Bruce Ferden.

    There is a DVD recording of a Stuttgart performance in 1983. Here are the alternative covers of the American release and the British release of this DVD:



    Satyagraha stands for "truth force" or "insistence on truth" as espoused by Gandhi for the base of his doctrine of non-violent civil disobedience to fight oppression.

    The opera describes seven scenes from Gandhi's life in his South African years (the first one being imaginary), and are grouped under references to three major historical figures: Leo Tolstoy for Act 1, Rabindranath Tagore (a Bengali writer and activist) for Act 2, and Martin Luther King, Jr. for Act 3.

    The first three scenes occupy act 1; the fourth through fifth are deployed in act 2; and the seventh and long final scene is what constitutes act 3. The scenes are:

    On the Kuru Field of Justice (mythical event)
    Tolstoy Farm (1910)
    The Vow (1906)
    Confrontation and Rescue (1896)
    Indian Opinion (1906)
    Protest (1908)New Castle March (1913)

    ------

    Satyagraha is a fascinating opera. Glass' minimalistic music with its repetitions fits very well the subject matter. Gandhi's stance in defense of his people and his principles has this character of quasi-stubbornness, constancy, steadfastness, determination, silent dignity, and the endless repeating harmonies seem to infuse these meanings into the performance and transmit the feelings to the public in emotional and touching ways that sound, well, true. Given that the theme here is truth force, there couldn't be a more successful orchestration.

    We get only strings and winds, no percussion. The voices make much of the rhythm (and there are striking rhythms, pulsating punctuations that are tense and almost anxiety-provoking. It is a powerful emotional experience. The vocal lines are also very melodious and beautiful.

    Glass decided to prevent productions from supplying supertitles with the full translation of the Sanskrit text. According to him (who was interviewed for this performance by Peter Gelb and Eric Owens) he wanted the public to pay attention to the beautiful sounds of this ancient language, and get the meanings from the music and the staging, except for some limited translations of the main philosophical concepts, which get projected on the set itself, on and over the action so to speak. I found this solution to be very ingenious, since these rather powerful words are symbolically displayed on the very body of the characters, to further signify the weight and gravitas of these concepts and precepts, taken directly from the Gita. Furthermore, the text of the libretto doesn't really match the action. It's not like characters say their lines as they'd do in a stage play or other more conventionally narrated operas. They *act* the action, but what they sing is rather a philosophical commentary on the action, a sort of metalanguage.

    This narrative device is striking and very efficient, impacting on the opera deeper layers of meaning.

    In terms of narrative, there isn't just this double language device, but also, the scenes are structured in a defined way: acts 1 and 2 both have a similar structure - the first scene describes a violent conflict, the second one is filled with peaceful contemplation, and the third one gets to protest and resistance.

    This is how the opera opens with a mythic scene in which the god Krishna exhorts a warrior to fight in spite of his lack of confidence, while in the second act the first scene is a confrontation between Gandhi and white racists. The second scenes in each act bring us Gandhi and his followers peaceful working for their cause (building dwellings in act I, and publishing his influential newspaper in act II). Similarly, the third scenes are mirror images of each other, with that on act I showing the vows taken by Gandhi to resist the Black Act, and on act II the Indians in South Africa burn their ID cards.

    There is then a logical progression, a dialectical movement with thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

    This is all recovered in the long and moving seventh scene, when symbolic elements of all six scenes come together, in an enactment of the principles of non-violence. The opera ends with everybody leaving the stage but Gandhi, whose solitude shows his grief and despair with what he had started, but also his hope and strength of character.

    The singing in this performance wasn't ideal. Richard Croft sang beautifully but in spite of the delicacy of the orchestration, he didn't always project very well. Mary Phillips as Mrs. Alexander was the weakest link, with a faded voice that couldn't convey the dramatic aspects of her part. Rachelle Durkin as Miss Schlesen did much better, in a difficult role that has an amazing number of high notes in rapid succession. Most of the supporting roles were at least decent.

    I won't even go on for too long about the singing, because this production's merit resides principally in its staging.

    Wow!

    I remember a recent post by member TxllxT talking about how he is more used to opera in audio recordings, and hoping to get more in touch with the visual aspects of opera. My friend, you need to see this production to be completely convinced of the importance of a staging.

    One can't talk of this staging with words any less superlative than 'magnificent.' I'd call it one of the best stagings I've ever seen.

    The solutions encountered by these talented artists were at the same time simple/elegant/sober, and sophisticated/complex/visually rich. Costumes and props were colorful, original, and imaginative. This staging has a concept, a leading idea, and it is a very appropriate one: it uses rubbish, garbage, to produce both horror and beauty. This works symbolically in many levels. It evokes the fact that these Indian immigrants to South Africa were seen as sub-human garbage, as what we try to discard and throw away. It also evokes the ugliest human sins of greed and prejudice. But then, one is surprised with how much beauty all this trash can produce, if only it gets organized the right way - which was undoubtedly one of Gandhi's most notable talents.

    The artists of the British group Skills Ensemble couldn't be more successful in what they accomplished. Each puppet, each acrobat, each mask, each monster or god they recreate out of pieces of trash (crumpled paper, wicket baskets, other basic materials) are convincing, evocative, and visually striking. What a tour de force!

    Especially beautiful was the solemn and slow construction of a sort of cage or barrier with scotch tape in the third act. The oppression, the limits imposed on humans, get painfully demonstrated by these more and more restraining lines that are traced in the dynamic space of the stage. Scenes of violence vs. non-violence follow, and Gandhi's triumph is symbolized by the progressive removal of the scotch tape that gets slowly raised to the skies.

    Another superb device is the fact that words are projected onto pieces of newspaper that are raised by characters like shields, symbolizing in my opinion the power of Gandhi's idea - or in other words, the force of truth, Satyagraha.

    This was a superb production. I hope it makes its way into a blu-ray disc, for all the opera community to be able to enjoy this fine work. Highly recommended.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); April 9th, 2015 at 01:36 AM.

  2. #2
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    a truly magnificent evening, remarkable and inspiring. My humble opinion is that Glass is worth more as a dramatist than a composer, although i must say Satyagraha has some really brilliant bits in terms of pure music. One thing though, I thought the video job was handled very poorly. I would buy it on blu-ray or dvd only if a whole new video director was brought in.

  3. #3
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanGesamtkunstwerk View Post
    a truly magnificent evening, remarkable and inspiring. My humble opinion is that Glass is worth more as a dramatist than a composer, although i must say Satyagraha has some really brilliant bits in terms of pure music. One thing though, I thought the video job was handled very poorly. I would buy it on blu-ray or dvd only if a whole new video director was brought in.
    I entirely agree. As a matter of fact while I was in the theater, I was thinking - once I get to Opera Lively to review this broadcast, I need to remember to criticize the video director (then I forgot to say it). Terrible, terrible job. Close-ups when the action elsewhere was more interesting, and lack of the same when needed, missing a lot of the stage action... totally misguided.

  4. #4
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Great review, Alma, I'm going to the Dead in HD showing this Saturday and it looks as though I'm in for a treat!
    Natalie

  5. #5
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Thanks, Nat, and I look forward to reading your review here.

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