Philip Glass’s Satyagraha: Met’s great production for a significant work.

…not only the opera as a musical work, but its production, such as the MET has done it for Philip Glass’s Satyagraha last November. Satyagraha means The Force of Truth in Sanskrit. We were stunned by the extraordinary marriage of the music and its visual and choreographic manifestation. I saw it at the movies only yesterday,  through one of the wonderful Met HD broadcasts that are changing the consumption of opera. The camera work in itself was extraordinary, and speaks for the definition and separation of the experience of opera in the movies versus the experience at the theater. They are different, and not replaceable by each other. The Met’s production worked with a paradoxical blend of the highly technical with the most humble materials, such as newspapers and scotch tape. It showed also the increasing dominance of art installation aesthetics, puppetry and circus stagecraft  in the growing world of interdisciplinary contemporary sacred drama, as these elements can be so useful in the representation of symbols and dream worlds. The New York Times’  interesting interview with the Met’s production designers reveals that they were extremely disciplined about establishing authentic connections between the opera’s content  and its material representation, to achieve a true embodiment of ideas. The pervasive use of newspapers, for example, constituted a “performance” of Gandhi’s relationship to the media.

It also becomes ever more clear  that performance alters message and meaning. YouTube includes a few clips of other productions. Even as brief as they are, and as distorted our perception may be by this limitation,  it is obvious that there is a difference in the emotional shading and philosophical impact of the scenes, purely on the basis of the choices in colors, lighting, choreography and stage design. As Philip Glass has  explained, by writing the opera in Sanskrit and severely limiting any supertitles, he opened up the work as a field of potential meanings co-created with any and all performers. YouTube also includes a few excerpts of Philip Glass discussing the opera. It is worth examining it all, while we wait for the next chance to experience this incredible work. In the meantime, even wonderful transcriptions, such as Paul Barnes’s take at the piano, are emerging like flower homages to the opera, to Gandhi, and to the the values he brought to this world.  And for those who doubt—yes, there were spectators moved to tears yesterday in the dark.


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