Satyagraha: Opera review - 'An inspired marriage of sight and sound'

Coliseum, London

Michael Church
Thursday 21 November 2013 11:31
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Alan Oke as Gandhi in 'Satyagraha'
Alan Oke as Gandhi in 'Satyagraha'

A revival of the Phelim McDermott/Julian Crouch production of Philip Glass’s operatic masterpiece means another chance to savour its inspired marriage of sight and sound.

Gandhi’s invented word ‘satyagraha’ meant ‘truth-force’, to which his followers had to surrender in their quest for a spiritual and fatalistic version of communism.

Given that the history is jumbled and the libretto is in Sanskrit, the singers have to make a similar sort of surrender, and since there are no English surtitles, so does the audience.

But no production ever made surrender so easy. Events unfold with dreamlike poise - the stage in a constant state of self-transformation – and one watches entranced as Improbable’s brilliant ‘skills ensemble’ create cows, crocodiles, jousting giants and Hindu gods with somnambulistic purpose and precision. Yet it’s all done with pea-sticks, papier-mache, Scotch tape, and painterly lighting.

No praise too high for the chorus, who summon up a Verdian grandeur, nor for the orchestra under Stuart Stratford’s direction, who find a perfect balance between ecstasy and urgency for Glass’s figurations.

Back in a title role he has made his own, Alan Oke deploys his gift for projecting heroic isolation at the head of an outstanding cast. Unforgettable.

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