An introduction to Satyagraha

It’s an opera from Glass’s 'Portrait Trilogy'…

Inspired by the life of Mahatma Gandhi, Satyagraha (first performed in 1980) tackles politics, where Akhnaten covers religion and Einstein on the Beach focuses on science, three main themes of the trilogy’s operas.

In his early years, Gandhi’s non-violent campaigns against racism in South Africa was known as ‘Truth force’ or ‘Satyagraha’, in Sanskrit. Composer Philip Glass wanted his opera to outline the world’s political and religious problems, as opposed to being a historical representation of Gandhi’s work. Because of this, as with all of Glass’s operas, Satyagraha doesn’t follow a conventional narrative, although it does loosely follow the life of Gandhi from his suit-wearing days as a lawyer in South Africa, to the holy man we can picture today.

The opera, performed entirely in Sanskrit, an ancient Hindu language, has no actual dialogue, instead verses adapted from the Bhagavad Gita are sung by the principles and the chorus. It is made up of three acts, which is each dedicated to a key figure related to Gandhi: Leo Tolstoy, of whom he had corresponded with, Rabindranath Tagore, a close friend, and Martin Luther King, who was inspired by Gandhi’s non-violent approach.

Philip Glass is known for his ‘minimalist’ musical style…

…Although he doesn’t like that term – he prefers to call his compositions, ‘music with repetitive structures’. Minimalist music, which developed as composers tried to break free from traditional musical styles, is hypnotic and repetitive. Glass’s music has influenced artists, composers and musicians; from David Bowie to Nico Muhly to Hans Zimmer.

This will be ENO’s third revival of Satyagraha…

Director Phelim McDermott first staged the highly-acclaimed production in 2007. This revival follows Phelim’s award winning run of Glass’s Akhnaten in 2016.