Satyagraha review: The first two acts are remarkable

There is always the option to leave before Act 3! The first two acts of Satyagraha are a remarkable theatrical experience that demand to be seen

Satyagraha

English National Opera, Londen Until Thursday

Gradering:

One of English National Opera’s more obvious curiosities is its persistent failure to deliver readily revivable productions of core repertory. Yet it finds enduring success with fringe pieces, such as The Mikado and this Satyagraha, now on its fourth revival.

Satyagraha, or ‘truth force’, is based on snapshots from the life of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, where he based himself between 1893 en 1914. Here he began his career as an agitator, in diens neem, in the words of the programme book, ‘The conviction that love not violence provides the strongest means of fighting oppression’, ie Satyagraha.

Philip Glass’s compositional technique involves endless repetition of the same melodic strand. Such is the conviction of the performers in Acts 1 en 2, they regularly convey the hypnotic intensity of a religious ritual where what matters is the often all-consuming sense of meditation, rather than the dramatic meaning of the Sanskrit words that constitute the libretto.

In Acts 1 en 2 it all works because of the power of Philip Glass’s music, especially in the orchestra and the performers, led by the American tenor Sean Panikkar as Gandhi (hierbo)

In Acts 1 en 2 it all works because of the power of Philip Glass’s music, especially in the orchestra and the performers, led by the American tenor Sean Panikkar as Gandhi (hierbo)

In Acts 1 en 2 it all works because of the power of Glass’s music, especially in the orchestra; the performers, led by the American tenor Sean Panikkar as Gandhi; and last but not least the staging by the original director, Phelim McDermott.

Sadly Act 3 is disappointing because Glass’s creative powers fall away. It’s dominated by two musical themes of mind-numbing tedium, the second of them no more than an endlessly repeated rising scale.

But don’t let that put you off. The first two acts are a remarkable theatrical experience that demand to be seen. There is always the option to leave before Act 3!

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