Satyagraha, Philip Glass’ at times magical, and at times maddening, meditation on the early career of Mahatma Gandhi, is back at the Metropolitan Opera where it enjoyed a triumphant run three years ago.
Whatever one’s reservations about the musical side of things, this is a production that should be seen for the brilliance of the staging by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch.
Friday night’s revival featured most of the same cast as in 2008, including the sweet-voiced tenor Richard Croft as an eloquent Gandhi and soprano Rachelle Durkin as his stalwart secretary. Dante Anzolini, a frequent Glass collaborator, was again the conductor.
More oratorio than opera, Satyagraha depicts episodes from Gandhiji’s time in South Africa during the years 1896 to 1913 as a young lawyer protesting British tyranny. But it defies expectations of traditional plot or chronology: Instead of following a straightforward narrative, we glimpse moments from his life frozen in front of our eyes.
The libretto, adapted by Constance DeJong from the Bhagavad Gita, is sung in the original Sanskrit. The title, too, is Sanskrit, roughly translated as “truth force,” the term Gandhi used to describe his movement of non-violent resistance.
This distancing of the audience from the words is deliberate. As Glass says in a program note, “without an understandable text to contend with ... the weight of ’meaning’ would then be thrown onto the music, the designs and the stage action.”