Wednesday, May 02, 2007


The opera is Philip Glass's meditation on the origins of Gandhi's policy of non-violent resistance (which he termed 'satyagraha'), set in South Africa.

Philip Glass's music is famously minimalist - incantatory and hypnotic - and therefore not dramatic in any kind of 'plot' sense. But it suits this tale very well; political activism was recast as ritual and raised to a mythic level. The burning of passes in Act II was very effective and an example of drama building up slowly, glacially, through a combination of the music and the ritualistic action on stage.

The production was gorgeous - all rusty browny golds and blacks, with spots of blue from time to time and white highlights. The stage was carpeted with varnished newsprint and bounded by a semicircle of rusty corrugated iron. From this umpromising format astonishing feats of spectacle were extracted, surprising the audience and deepening the symbolism right to the end. The lighting design was particularly atmospheric. In fact, despite the slow musical tempo the staging was quite acrobatic - we had stilt walkers, huge mythological puppets manned by arrays of cast members, people whizzed off stage on lines, etc etc etc.

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