Opera Review: Philip Glass Trilogy: Satyagraha

Philip Glass Trilogy: Satyagraha

The third and final opera in the Trilogy is inspired by the life of Mahatma Gandhi and his life-long search for truth through non-violent means.

Philip Glass Trilogy: Satyagraha
Presented by State Opera South Australia
Reviewed 9 August 2014

Religion, science and politics; it’s been a week of incredible opera and dance. Philip Glass’s Akhnaten storied the beginnings of monotheistic religion, Einstein on the beach gave science a mathematical and musical profile, and the final in the trilogy, Satyagraha tackled politics à la Gandhi, with Sanskrit text from the Bhagavad-Gita.

Inspired by the life of the Mahatma Gandhi (who referred to the Bhagavad-Gita as his Spiritual Dictionary), the opera is in three acts, each referencing a related cultural figure: Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore and Martin Luther King Junior.

Setting the tone for a visually rich opera, Mark Oates as Arjuna and Joshua Rowe as Krishna performed a splendid mythical narrative during The Kuru Fied of Justice; Gandhi’s already calm but commanding presence dramatically juxtaposing the fatigues and bows of the chorus and central characters.

Gandhi’s life-long search for truth through non-violent means, the concept he called Satyagraha, is realised in this wonderful three-act opera. Adam Goodburn made a commendable transition into Gandhi, man of peace. Over the acts, as he slowly shed from three-piece suit to dhoti, the transition from his South African days to Mahatma (great soul) was gently revealed; the peaceful authority with which he transacted as impressive.

Blue lotus coloured hues dominated Mary Moore’s simple set, from the gorgeous giant moon-disc to the dancer’s bodystocking overlay which also covered their faces. The contrasting saris in burnt orange tones of Kasturbai (Cherie Boogaart), Mrs Naidoo (Naomi Hede) and Miss Schlessen (Deborah Caddy) were not the only reason they stood out; the support women bringing a strength and composure to the developing tale.

The State Opera Chorus (in their third massive opera in five days) may have looked purposefully plain in kurtas, but they sounded magnificent, matching Timothy Sexton’s stellar leadership of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Look out for the spectacular melee scene. Goodburn’s serenity shines against Leigh Warren’s choreographic vision, executed by the Adelaide College of the Arts dancers and the chorus. The dancers, in this show, androgynous, grasping, needy and dramatically flawless, again added so much to this and the two previous Glass performances as to make one question how the operas could possibly be complete without them.

If the ‘jail’ scene, another highlight, with lighting designer Geoff Cobham’s own enlightened skills, doesn’t make you rethink things worth complaining about, grab a copy of the facsimile of “Indian Opinion” of 15 September 1906 handed out by Gandhi, (and falling from above) which makes for fascinating interval reading.

These operas showcase some of the very best of South Australian talent, so see a higher power, smarten up and become enlightened before it’s all over. Two weeks remaining:

Cycle Two:
12 August Akhnaten 7.30pm
14 August Einstein on the Beach 5pm
16 August 2014 Satyagraha 7.30pm

Cycle Three:
19 August Akhnaten 7.30pm
14 August Einstein on the Beach 5pm
23 August Satyagraha 7.30pm

Reviewed by Emily Morris
Twitter: @EmMo87

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Season: Satyagraha – 9, 16, 23 August 2014 7.30pm
Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes (including 20 minute interval)
Tickets: $25 – $135
Bookings: Book through BASS online or phone 131 246


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