Satyagraha is composer Philip Glass’s meditation on Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, tracing the progress of his concept of non-violent protest as a positive force for change, and performed at the London Coliseum by the English National Opera.
First staged in 2007, Phelim McDermott’s highly acclaimed, spectacularly theatrical production is a visual feast. Glass’s use of repetitive musical structures – ‘minimalism’– creates a mesmerising soundscape, quite unlike traditional operas.
Satyagraha is the name of Gandhi’s overall method of non-violent action, translating as “truth-force” – in other words, the idea that force is generated through adherence to truth, and so non-violent action should always be preferred. It is a particular form of nonviolent, civil resistance coined by Gandhi, employed by him in South Africa for Indian rights. Satyagraha theory was hugely influential in Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
The opera was first commissioned by the city of Rotterdam, Nederlands, where it was first performed in September 1980 by the Netherlands Opera. It premiered in North America in July 1981, and made its UK premiere in a joint production in Bath in 1997.
Satyagraha is an opera in three acts, each referencing a major related cultural figure. The story shifts throughout Gandhi’s life, flowing between time, words and music to create a hypnotic experience. The first act references Leo Tolstoy, and see a great war fought on a mythical battlefield; the second references Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali polymath who reshaped his culture’s literature and music, and centres on the theme of protest; and the third references Martin Luther King Jr., with a more political slant.
Following the Olivier Award-winning run of Akhnaten in 2016, McDermott is reunited with Glass-specialist conductor Karen Kamensek. Distinguished British tenor Toby Spence sings Gandhi for the first time, and is joined by sopranos Charlotte Beament (Miss Schelesen) and Anna-Clare Monk (Mrs Naidoo).
Book now for Glass’s mesmeric masterpiece, which has become an icon of contemporary opera.
Please note that Satyagraha is sung in Sanskrit without surtitles.