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Philip Glass

Publisher: Chester Music

Satyagraha (1980)
commissioned by the City of Rotterdam
Work Notes
Opera in three acts. Libretto (Sanskrit) by the composer and Constance DeJong, adapted from the Bhagavad-Gita.
Text Writer
the composer and Constance DeJong, adapted from the Bhagavad-Gita
Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
3 Hours 0 Minutes
SATB (large chorus)
English, Sanskrit
2 Sopranos, 2 Mezzo Sopranos, 2 Tenors, Baritone, 2 Basses
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Programme Note
Philip Glass Satyagraha (1980)
M. K. Gandhi - tenor
Miss Schlesen, Gandhi's secretary - soprano
Kasturbai, Gandhi's wife - alto
Mr. Kallenbach, European co-worker - baritone
Parsi Rustomji, Indian co-worker - bass
Mrs. Naidoo, Indian co-worker - soprano
Mrs. Alexander, European friend - alto
Lord Krishna, mythological character from the Bhagavad-Gita - bass
Prince Arjuna, mythological character from the Bhagavad-Gita - baritone

Non-singing parts:
Count Leo Tolstoy, historical figure, Act I
Rabindranath Tagore, historical figure, Act II
Martin Luther King. Jr., historical figure, Act III
Large chorus

The second in Glass' trilogy about men who changed the world, Satyagraha's sub-text is politics. The opera is semi-narrative in form and deals with Mahatma Gandhi's early years in South Africa and his development of non-violent protest into a political tool. (Satyagraha is a Sanskrit word meaning 'truth force'). The first two acts each contain three scenes; the last is one continuous scene. Each act is dominated by a single historic figure (non-singing role) overlooking the action from above: the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore in Act I, the Russian author Leo Tolstoy in act II, the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., in Act III.

  • Ensemble
    The New York City Opera / New York City Orchestra / New York City Chorus
    Christopher Keene
    Sony Masterworks M3K 39672:
  • Soloist(s)
    Iveta Apkalna, Organ
Back at the Coliseum for its second revival since 2007, English National Opera's production of Philip Glass's opera about Gandhi's early non-violent campaigns against racism in South Africa, remains a really striking achievement on many levels, and an unmissable music theatre experience. If anything, its broad philosophical message is even more profound now than before, in the wake of today's unrighted injustices and often wilfully unlearned lessons of the financial crisis.
Martin Kettle, The Guardian,21/11/2013
...It is surely the most distinctive and brillaitn achievement on the London operatice scene in more than a decade...Do anything - anything none violent, of course - to see it now.
John Allison, The Telegraph,21/11/2013
...It is surely the distinctive and brilliant achievement on the London operatic scene in more than a decade...Do anything - anything non-violent, of course - to see it now.
John Allison, The Telegraph,21/11/2013
Three years ago, ENO's staging of Philip Glass's second opera, Satyagraha, devised by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch of the theatre company Improbable, seemed a marvel, transfixing musically and visually. The production has since been to New York's Metropolitan Opera, and its return to the ENO reaffirms its dramatic potency, with giant papier-mache puppets, video projections and eloquently choreographed movement. Much of the cast has returned, too, most importantly Alan Oke in the role of MK Gandhi. As the still focus of Glass's meditation on non-violent protest, he sings with an otherworldly beauty. The high soprano of Elena Xanthoudakis, who plays Miss Schlesen, his secretary, adds a silvery edge to the slowly shifting vocal ensembles. Stuart Stratford conducts this time around and makes the score seem more ravishing than ever, every phrase beautifully balanced, every chord immaculately spaced, a reminder that before minimalism was invented, Glass studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, and has maintained the craftsmanship he acquired there. Admiration is redoubled most of all, though, for McDermott and Crouch, who trust the music to work its hypnotic spell, and balance its moments of stasis against the freewheeling, dramatically appropriate imagery. It's a must-see for anyone who missed the first run, and a landmark in recent London opera.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,01/03/2010
Satyagraha apparently clocked up box-office figures that made it the most popular contemporary opera in English National Opera’s history.
Richard Fairman, The Financial Times,28/02/2010
With much of the cast returning to the piece, Glass’s mesmeric refrains now feel more under their skin. After a cautious start, the conductor Stuart Stratford finds the pulse points and draws each passage to its glowing climax. Elena Xanthoudakis is a luminous presence as Gandhi’s secretary, Miss Schlesen. And Anne Mason brings a new vehemence to the music of Mrs Alexander, Gandhi’s valiant protectress against the racist Afrikaners, whose monstrous puppet doubles peer down from on high. But it is Alan Oke’s virtuosic turn as Gandhi that underscores the very humane frailty evoked by composer and production alike. The opera concludes as Gandhi looks ahead to the future: the prophetic figure of Martin Luther King stands behind him as the storm clouds gather and the set is unmade. We know how violently both these men’s lives will end; as Oke sings the 30 identical phrases that take the piece to its serene conclusion, you know that he does too. It’s disturbing, inspiring, uplifting. So what more do you want from your opera?
Neil Fisher, The Times,27/02/2010
From the moment when Alan Oke (Gandhi) began his ineffably sweet opening aria over a gentle cello ostinato, I was caught and held by the sheer beauty of the staging, singing, and playing in the pit. Directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch work with big simple gestures, letting their imagery morph organically: the fit with Glass’s music, which consists of slowly metamorphosing textures, is so perfect that the evening’s events seem governed by the regular pulse of the heart. The simple plot follows Mahatma Gandhi’s early years with his non-violent Satyagrahis in South Africa, and his ‘spiritual guardians’ colour each of the acts: Leo Tolstoy who inspired him, Rabindranath Tagore who counselled him, and Martin Luther King Jr, who carried on the torch of peaceful mass-resistance after he had died. Not much ‘happens’, but it’s all played out with such sacramental seriousness, and on a kaleidoscopically-changing backdrop, that we are held riveted. The ceremonial stripping of the leader down to his famous semi-nudity, the movement’s ritual baptism of fire, and the march against the first official colour bar are each inventively realised; the final scene, in which Gandhi becomes John the Baptist to King’s apotheosis on a plinth, is spellbindingly beautiful. This show as a whole is a masterpiece. Book now.
Michael Church, The Independant,26/02/2010
Everybody who is anybody flocked to the Met on April 11 for what Peter Gelb unblushingly labelled 'a modern masterpiece....the orchestra under Dante Anzolino made the chugging ostinatos and shimmering arpeggios flirt with poetry...
Martin Bernheimer, Opera Magazine,01/06/2008
Satyagraha is...Glass's masterpiece, the work in which his musical style finds its most perfect and personal expression: the sort of interlocking and overlapping repetitions that in other contexts might do your head in are essential to the meditative nature of this piece. With its slowly shifting timbres, Glass's music has always had an integrity that's missing in, say, the more 'maximalist' style of John Adams, another composer interested in modern historical figures, and that purity finds a natural outlet in Satyagraha. A continuous cross-cutting of of actual events in Johannesburg and Natal gives the three acts a non-linear structure that is also in keeping with Eastern philosophical thought. As the opening solo is gradually gathered up into duet, trio and- eventually- a stirring chorus, the cumulative power of Glass's music takes hold: the music at the start is of a haunting beauty that sometimes recalls the sensuousness of Monteverdi...
John Allison, The Sunday Telegraph,15/04/2007
[Satyagraha's] primary aim is to present Gandhi's work and thought as a tremendous achievement within the continuum of non-violent ideology. The text derives from the Bhagavad Gita with its vision of the spiritually secure, peaceful warrior aware of the inviolable divinity within all beings. In keeping with eastern philosophical thought, past, present and future are elided and the narrative glides backwards and forwards through time...The repetitive figurations of Glass's music, meanwhile, act like mantras, and aim to quieten the jangling of our own minds as we watch and listen. It is an astonishingly beautiful work, though some may find Glass's idiom forbidding...It is impossible, however, to imagine a better execution...'
Tim Ashley, The Guardian,07/04/2007
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