THE CAST (in order of vocal appearance)
M. K. Gandhi tenor, RICHARD CROFT
Prince Arjuna bass, BRADLEY GARVIN
Lord Krishna bass, RICHARD BERNSTEIN
Miss Schlesen sop., RACHELLE DURKIN
Mrs. Naidoo soprano, MOLLY FILLMORE
Kasturbai mezzo, MARIA ZIFCHAK
Mr. Kallenbach baritone, KIM JOSEPHSON
Parsi Rustomji bass-bar., ALFRED WALKER
Mrs. Alexander mezzo, MARY PHILLIPS
Conducted by DANTE ANZOLINI
Production: Phelim McDermott
Associate director/set designer: Julian Crouch
Costume designer: Kevin Pollard
Lighting designer: Paule Constable
Video design: Fifty Nine Productions
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Dennis Giauque,
Caren Levine, Liora Maurer, Steven Osgood
Assistant stage directors: David Kneuss,
Kathleen Smith Belcher
|Prompter: Caren Levine
Production a gift of
Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman
Additional funding from Stanley, Marion,
Paul, Sara, and Eddie Bergman;
the National Endowment for the Arts;
and Henry Schein, Inc.
Revival a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Vikas Kapoor
Coproduction of the Metropolitan Opera
with English National Opera
in collaboration with Improbable
Directed for Live Cinema by
Barbara Willis Sweete
HD host: Eric Owens
Philip Glass's Satyagraha, a commission by the city of Rotterdam, had its world premiere there on September 5, 1980, in a staging by David Pountney, with American conductor Christopher Keene leading the forces of Netherlands Opera and the Utrechts Symphonie Orkest. In 1987, Keene also led the first performances of Satyagraha by a major U.S. opera company when Lyric Opera of Chicago presented Pountney's revision of his Rotterdam staging.
Satyagraha is inspired by Mohandas K. Gandhi's years as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, when he developed the philosophy of nonviolent resistance that made him the most influential social and political leader of twentieth-century India. The text of the opera — which does not present a conventional linear narrative about Gandhi —is taken from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture that is an eighteen-chapter section of the ancient epic Mahabarata. The Bhagavad Gita comprises a conversation between Lord Krishna, regarded as a manifestation of God, and Arjuna, one of the five Pandava princes, in which Krishna teaches the prince his duties as warrior and ruler. The opera is sung in Sanskrit.
The Met's staging of Satyagraha, a coproduction with English National Opera in collaboration with the London theater company Improbable, had its world premiere at London's Coliseum on April 5, 2007, led by Johannes Debus. The first performance of Satyagraha at the Met was conducted by Dante Anzolini on April 11, 2008.
"The real subject of Philip Glass's opera [is] Satyagraha, the philosophy of non-violent resistance that Gandhi made into such a formidable political weapon…. Glass and Constance DeJong … begin their action in mythology, then move freely back and forth in time during Gandhi's formative South African years (1893-1914). Looming above the action … are three figures crucially linked to the Satyagraha philosophy: the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Indian mystic and Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore."
— Robert T. Jones, editor of Music by Philip Glass (Harper & Row, 1987), in his introductory notes to the 1985 Sony release of Satyagraha
ACT I (TOLSTOY). The Kuru Fields of Justice. Tolstoy is at his desk throughout Act I. On a mythological battlefield, two armies face each other, headed by Prince Arjuna and Durodhana. Lord Krishna stands downstage in the area separating the armies, which are seen in silhouette. As the lights come up, the soldiers are revealed to be a twentieth-century Indian and European army. Gandhi walks downstage between them, drawing a parallel between the mythic confrontation and the present one, then joining with the mythic Arjuna to describe how the conflict came to pass. "Sure is death to all that's born, sure is birth to all that dies…. But if you will not wage this war … you will bring evil on yourself."
Tolstoy Farm (1910). Gandhi has founded a commune where the Satyagrahi - Indian immigrant workers pledged to resist the Europeans' racial discrimination - are starting to build their settlement. Weighing the ideas of contemplation and action, Gandhi states his view that work is preferable to idleness, provided one's motives are freed from the taint of desire. His wife Kasturbai, assistants and coworkers agree that in this way, theory and practice become one and the same thing.
The Vow (1906). The Indian community in South Africa has taken a vow to resist peacefully, unto death, the British government's act requiring them to re-register, carry permits and submit to arbitrary searches. Gandhi's secretary, Miss Schlesen, assists Parsi Rustomji, an Indian coworker, in drawing together a crowd, which Rustomji addresses. He says that if one does the right things for no ulterior reason or personal gain, only because they are right, then one is following the good path: "You sustain the gods, and the gods sustain you in return." The people agree that no one has to take the bitter with the sweet in performing the tasks of life.
ACT II (TAGORE). Confrontation and Rescue (1896). Returning from a sojourn in India with the intention of introducing more Indian workers into South Africa, Gandhi has drawn an angry crowd of Europeans, who harass him as he moves through one of their communities under a stormy sky. Gandhi is protected by Mrs. Alexander, a European supporter, who walks by his side, sheltering him under her umbrella. As men in the crowd proclaim their self-interested motives, Mrs. Alexander declares them corrupted by desire, hypocrisy and false conceptions.
Indian Opinion (1906). It is late afternoon, and workers on the commune are busy preparing the latest edition of Indian Opinion - a newspaper published by Indians in South Africa to strengthen the resistance movement - for the press. Gandhi's wife and colleagues restate the importance of working for a cause rather than for one's own gratification. Such is the way the saints attained success. By setting a good example, one inspires and leads others.
Protest (1908). Some leaders of the resistance movement were sentenced to jail for disobeying an order to leave South Africa, others got themselves arrested on various pretexts so they could overcrowd the jail. The government offered to make registration voluntary for the Indian aliens, who, on learning that the registration bill was enacted nevertheless, have gathered for a prayer meeting and to burn their registration cards. Gandhi preaches about the importance of bearing no hate toward anyone. The person pleasing to God is the same to everyone, whether friend or foe, is indifferent to praise or blame or to worldly distractions. The chorus repeats the words of the first scene: "Hold pleasure and pain, profit and loss, victory and defeat, to be the same, then brace yourself for the fight, so you will bring no evil on yourself."
ACT III (KING). New Castle March (1913). When the South African government went back on its pledge to repeal two discriminatory laws affecting Indian immigrant workers - the Three Pound Tax and the Black Act - the Satyagraha movement, led by Gandhi, exerted strong, nonviolent organized pressure for repeal.
At evening, on the mythological battlefield on the South African plain (now the commune of the Satyagrahi), Gandhi's wife and his aide Mrs. Naidoo praise again the "integrated" person "whose soul views the selfsame way … friends, comrades, enemies, those who are indifferent." Joined by Gandhi and his other aides, Miss Schlesen, Kallenbach and Rustomji, they state, "This is the fixed, still state which sustains even at the time of death the athletes of the spirit." They go on to explain the soul's return to Brahma, perhaps to be reborn, as the Lord Brahma was reborn many times: "For whenever the law of righteousness withers away … then do I generate myself on earth … setting virtue on her seat again."
Born in Baltimore in 1937, Philip Glass entered the University of Chicago at fifteen. He attended the Juilliard School and studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. By the time the composer was in his early thirties, he had established himself as a potent force in the New York musical community. The first of his works to be presented at the Metropolitan Opera House was Einstein on the Beach, which had its North American premiere there, in 1976, although it was not a Metropolitan Opera production.
The first Glass opera to enter the Met repertory was The Voyage, which was commissioned by the company to mark the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the new world. The Voyage had its world premiere at the Met on October 12, 1992.
Satyagraha, a commission by the city of Rotterdam, had its world premiere there on September 5, 1980, in a staging by David Pountney, with American conductor Christopher Keene leading the forces of the Netherlands Opera and the Utrechts Symphonie Orkest. Keene also led the first performances of Satyagraha by a major U.S. opera company, when Lyric Opera of Chicago presented Pountney's revision of his Rotterdam staging, in 1987.
The Met's new Satyagraha staging, a co-production with English National Opera in collaboration with the London theater company Improbable, had its world premiere at London's Coliseum on April 5, 2007, conducted by Johannes Debus. The production arrives at the Met on April 11, 2008.
For more on Satyagraha, see "Puppet Regime," by David Cote.
WHAT TO READ AND HEAR
The most concise source for information on Glass and his work is the composer's own website (www.philipglass.com), which features an excellent biographical essay by Tim Page. Useful introductions to the composer include Robert Maycock's Glass: A Portrait (Sanctuary Publishing) and Keith Potter's Four Musical Minimalists (Cambridge).
On CD, Keene leads a 1985 CBS Masterworks/Sony release of Satyagraha, which gathered the chorus and orchestra of New York City Opera, as well as Douglas Perry, who created the role of Gandhi in the opera's world premiere. The DVD of Achim Freyer's 1983 Stuttgart Satyagraha, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, is out of print.
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