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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Satyagraha

Philip Glass' opera retells the life of Gandhi...in Sanskrit.
Soul man: Richard Croft as Mahatma Gandhi in Satyagraha.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2008 The Metropolitan Opera.
Richard Croft reprises the role of Mohandis K. Gandhi in this first revival of the company's 2008 production of Satyagraha: Philip Glass' operatic treatment of an early incident in the life of the Mahatma. The title refers to Mr. Gandhi's practice of passive resistance.

Satyagraha depicts Mr. Gandhi's early efforts fighting for civil rights in British-controlled South Africa, specifically the "Black Act" that restricted the rights of immigrants from India and elsewhere in that country. But the opera does not have a conventional libretto. Mr. Glass adapted the 700 verses of the Bhagavad-Gita for his story, having singers act out the story even as they sing the sacred texts.

The followup to Einstein on the Beach is a much more conventional opera, with an actual plot and tighter musical structure. This is classic early Glass-work, where small tight musical structures are repeated and built upon by the orchestra. These aural building blocks are used to build vast structures, a sonic temple of meditation that invites the listener in.

Did we mention? The work is in Sanskrit. The last time the Met performed Satyagraha (in 2008), the opera was offered with the house's multi-million-dollar Met Titles system turned off. Expect the same for this revival.

Recording Recommendation:
There's only one. Luckily it was reissued last year.

New York City Opera Orchestra and Chorus cond. Christopher Keene
Back in the glory days of the 1970s and 80s, City Opera was instrumental in getting Philip Glass' operas performed and explored. The company hosted the first New York performances of Satyagraha and its sequel, Akhnaten, turning the former New York State Theater into Lincoln Center's own Glass cathedral. The late Christopher Keene, who also served as a general manager of the NYCO, conducts.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.