Sunday, December 18, 2011
A MOST UNUSUAL OPERA
SATYAGRAHA by Philip Glass is a three act opera, sung in Sanskrit with no relevant subtitles. What subtitles we do read are translations of meditations.Its hero is Mohandas Ghandhi. Not an easy experience to understand and of the opera lovers in Oamaru, some twenty of us, only five people attended the screening yesterday afternoon. Of course they will all be attending 'The Magic Flute'next week, where they will be seen and recognised as culture vultures, but four hours of incomprehensible singing one week before Xmas No thanks. Well they missed a treat.
Richard Croft,sings Ghandi with his beautiful tenor voice. He begins as a young lawyer in South Africa and over three acts develops into the stick figure man in a loin cloth I remember seeing in newreels as I was growing up
The whole opers is highly symbolic, Shiva of the blue face, and Mohammed in a red fez sing a tenor baritone duet in the first act. I think they were arguing the merits of their holy books, but cannot be sure, I had to infer that from the acting.
A lot of use is made of newspaper. In the second act a choruus of South African men sing 'Ho,Ho.Ho'on one note for just about the entire act while boys in rags polish their shoes. Behind them giant puppets that look as though they were constructed of newspaper, stir the ridicule until the chorus atacks Ghandi physically, and he lies bleeding on the stage. Enter a mezzo soprano who berates the men and rescues Ghandi. All based on historical events.
In the third act, which begins with the burning of identity passes, a brilliant scene, Ghandhi and his followers prepare to march. One by one his friends are dragged away by police,leaving him alone as he sings a final meditation,
There are excerpts from SANTYAGRAHA on Google.
In the Metropolitan Opera's production there is a balcony at the rear of that stage, throughout this final song it shows a the back of a young, black man in a blue suit miming his presidential address. At the end it all morphs into the Lincoln memorial..
The whole opera is incredibly clever,visually beautiful,intellectually demanding, and musically satisfying.