Friday, April 11, 2008

"Satyagraha," by Phillip Glass

The New York Times has a behind-the-scenes look at a new version of Phillip Glass's modernist opera, "Satyagraha," which is playing at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York until May 1. There is also a companion video piece, which I could watch but not listen to from the computer I'm working on this morning.

The libretto uses the Bhagavad-Gita as a source, and the opera as a whole aims to index some of the key events in Gandhi's early political awakening in South Africa with the plot and text of the Gita. That alone might be a little confusing, since the central question facing Arjuna in the Gita, as most readers will know, is whether or not to fight -- and Gandhi's signature political contribution ("Satyagraha") is the philosophy of non-violent resistance. The choice could of course be defended depending on your interpretation of the Gita, and indeed, I gather that Gandhi did his own translation -- with commentary -- of the Bhagavad-Gita in 1924. I haven't read Gandhi's version, though I should note that it has recently been re-published as a volume called Bhagavad-Gita According to Gandhi.

The current interpretation of Glass's work adds some new elements, including a strong focus on newsprint and newspaper culture as a theme in Gandhi's story (that at least seems dead-on). There are also towering puppets, made of "newspaper, fiberglass kite poles, light cotton cloth and lots of latex glue," which symbolize historical figures from Gandhi's past (Tolstoy), present, and future (MLK).

It seems like an interesting work, though I have to admit I'm not sure I personally would enjoy it. (And most tickets under $100 have already been sold out, so it's not something where a person would go casually...) Has anyone seen this? Is anyone planning to?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going to see this production tonight. I saw a prior production of Satyagraha (Seattle Opera about 16-18 years ago) and it was immediately one of the most compelling and moving things I had ever seen. I'm not a big opera fan, but the story of Ghandi's struggles to overcome hate with love, and learning to be an organizer of people, was inspirational. The music is amazing. This is a "MUST SEE" for me - it's rarely done.
I highly recommend that you see it, even if you get a very inexpensive ticket (i.e., "bad seat"), it will still be a rare experience well worth having!

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i watch a lot of opera, so when they announced glass' opera for this season, i knew i had to see it.

i wouldn't call the music amazing and it certainly isn’t what i’d call traditional opera music, but in this particular case, glass' repetitive music lends itself to the philosophy of the geeta – so in those terms it’s quite an ideal subject for his particular style of music.

the production is near fabulous, and i particularly enjoyed acts 1 and 2. croft had a beautiful liquid tone, and the met chorus was quite outstanding.

gandhi’s ideas and those in the geeta are not at odds, but that’s another discussion.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliantly interpreted and staged - not to be missed.

8:21 AM  
Blogger yomamma said...

Couldn't you say Gandhi was a peaceful warrior? he certainly ticked some off, and met a violent end. So you don't have to have a narrow interpretation of what fighting is.

1:16 PM  

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