Commissioned by the City of Rotterdam, Satyagraha is the second in Glass’s trilogy about men who changed the world. The opera is semi-narrative in form and is a moving account of Mahatma Gandhi‘s early years in South Africa and his development of non-violent protest into a political tool, a method that Dr. King would later embrace.
“Satyagraha” is a Sanskrit word meaning “truth force,” and the subtext of this opera is, as you may have deduced, politics.
Each act is dominated by a single historic figure in a non-singing role who is overlooking the action from above: the Indian poet Ravindranath Tagore in Act I the Russian author Leo Tolstoy in Act II, the American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in Act III.
. . . you should embrace action for the upholding, the welfare of your own kind. Whatever the noblest does, that too will others do: the standard that he sets all the world will follow.
–from the libretto of Satyagraha
It premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008, under the direction of Philip McDermott and designer Julian Crouch (artistic directors of London’s Improbable theater company). The Met version was considered adventurous, employing improvisational puppetry and aerialists to illuminate this work.
The revival. a collaboration with English National Opera, will again feature Richard Croft as Mahatma Gandhi. Satyagraha opens November 4 and runs through December 1, 2011.
The following YouTube clip provides a flavor of it.