Satyagraha 2017-04-28T11:41:09+00:00

Project Description

Satyagraha

a monumental affirmation of human dignity

English National Opera / Improbable

Satyagraha by Philip Glass and Constance DeJong was staged in April 2007 as a co-production between the English National Opera, The Metropolitan Opera New York and Improbable. Spring 2008 will see the production open in New York.

Using multiple projectors to cover the entire performance area, Fifty Nine Productions created a range of visual material which appeared throughout the show. Large scale textual projections replaced surtitles, and an aesthetic based on Gandhi’s newspaper, The Indian Opinion informed the overall video design.

Satyagraha was at the Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London (English National Opera) until May 2007. It re-opened at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in April 2008.  It went on make a much-anticipated return to the London Coliseum in February 2010 and onto the Met Opera, New York, from November 2011 which would be broadcast live in HD to cinemas around the world.  It would go on to make a final return to the London Coliseum in November 2013.

Selected Reviews

English National Opera / Improbable

‘An extraordinary success… A succession of quotations or even single words appear across the cyclorama or on newspapers held aloft by groups of westerners who read only what they are required to read….The visual ingenuity of McDermott and Crouch’s staging is a constant source of intrigue and illumination.’

The Independent

‘[Satyagraha] is an astonishingly beautiful work…it is impossible to imagine a better execution…The whole thing serves as a monumental affirmation of human dignity at a time when many have begun to question its very existence – and for that we must be infinitely grateful.’

The Guardian

‘A masterwork of theatrical intensity and integrity… The beauty of the sung Sanskrit is bewitching: sober sepia projections of key passages replace supertitles…The perfect marriage of music and subject matter.’

The Times

Metropolitan Opera

New York
April – May 2008

“The production is a work of genius that ranges from the very simple to the fantastically ambitious … A sense of playful fantasy somehow suits the meditative mood of the music and the serious needs of the religious and political subject matter.

“Satyagraha” is not among this season’s high-definition broadcasts of Met productions at movie theaters. Someone who knows the ways of the company told me that adding it to the schedule could cost a million dollars.

They should find a million dollars.”

LA Times

“The Improbable theater company’s production of Philip Glass’s “Satyagraha,” which opened at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night, represents the kind of work the Met should be doing. It is an important revival of a major recent piece. It is a significant work of theater. And it provides an all too rare demonstration of the fact that new opera can indeed be a contemporary art….a profound and beautiful work of theater. The final act is a masterpiece of the power of simplicity.”

Washington Post

“For this new production, introduced last year at the English National Opera, director Phelim McDermott and designer Julian Crouch fashioned scenes as enigmatic and transcendent as Glass’s music. Portions of Constance DeJong’s libretto, adapted from the Bhagavad Gita, are projected onto a curved wall of corrugated iron that frames the action. Ordinary materials such as newspaper and packing tape are transformed into props, scenery and animated creatures, gracefully manipulated by stilt-walkers and aerialists…the most achingly beautiful presentation the Met has introduced since Anthony Minghella’s Madama Butterfly in 2006.”

Time Out New York

English National Opera

‘Directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch work with big simple gestures, letting their imagery morph organically: the fit with Glass’s music, which consists of slowly metamorphosing textures, is so perfect that the evening’s events seem governed by the regular pulse of the heart….Not much ‘happens’, but it’s all played out with such sacramental seriousness, and on a kaleidoscopically-changing backdrop, that we are held riveted. The ceremonial stripping of the leader down to his famous semi-nudity, the movement’s ritual baptism of fire, and the march against the first official colour bar are each inventively realised; the final scene, in which Gandhi becomes John the Baptist to King’s apotheosis on a plinth, is spellbindingly beautiful. However one rates the music per se, this show as a whole is a masterpiece. Book now.’

Independent

‘…It’s this hypnotic flavour to Glass’s sound-world that is so stunningly conveyed in this production, a collaboration with the theatre group Improbable. Mounted by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the staging creates a theatre of poverty to match Gandhi’s own philosophy of “Satyagraha”, or “truth-force”: the belief that fighting against oppression need not be done with violence….It’s disturbing, inspiring, uplifting. So what more do you want from your opera?’

The Times

‘Three years ago, ENO’s staging of Philip Glass’s second opera, Satyagraha, devised by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch of the theatre company Improbable, seemed a marvel, transfixing musically and visually. The production has since been to New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and its return to the ENO reaffirms its dramatic potency, with giant papier-mache puppets, video projections and eloquently choreographed movement… Admiration is redoubled most of all, though, for McDermott and Crouch, who trust the music to work its hypnotic spell, and balance its moments of stasis against the freewheeling, dramatically appropriate imagery. It’s a must-see for anyone who missed the first run, and a landmark in recent London opera.’

The Guardian

Metropolitan Opera / ENO / Improbable

“The Improbable theater company’s production of Philip Glass’s “Satyagraha,” which opened at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night, represents the kind of work the Met should be doing. It is an important revival of a major recent piece. It is a significant work of theater. And it provides an all too rare demonstration of the fact that new opera can indeed be a contemporary art….a profound and beautiful work of theater. The final act is a masterpiece of the power of simplicity.”

Washington Post

“For this new production, introduced last year at the English National Opera, director Phelim McDermott and designer Julian Crouch fashioned scenes as enigmatic and transcendent as Glass’s music. Portions of Constance DeJong’s libretto, adapted from the Bhagavad Gita, are projected onto a curved wall of corrugated iron that frames the action. Ordinary materials such as newspaper and packing tape are transformed into props, scenery and animated creatures, gracefully manipulated by stilt-walkers and aerialists…the most achingly beautiful presentation the Met has introduced since Anthony Minghella’s Madama Butterfly in 2006.”

Time Out New York

“Hypnotic visual and musical magic.”

Wall Street Journal

“A transcendent evening of theater and one of the most striking new Met productions of recent years….The production is a constantly unfolding phantasmagoria of surprises.”

Variety

ENO / Improbable / Metropolitan Opera

“Surely the most distinctive and brilliant achievement on the London operatic scene in more than a decade… It’s hard to imagine Satyagraha ever being better done, yet difficult to believe that ENO will revive the show again. Do anything – anything non-violent, of course – to see it now.”

Daily Telegraph

“An inspired marriage of sight and sound…

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….Unforgettable”

Independent

“A really striking achievement on many levels, and an unmissable music theatre experience. If anything, its broad philosophical message is even more profound now than before, in the wake of today’s unrighted injustices and often wilfully unlearned lessons of the financial crisis….The wonder is that all this succeeds so brilliantly and involvingly. It does so, above all, because the production by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch understands and has creative confidence in Glass’s music and aims. The staging is full of visual patterns and flights of fancy of its own, which match and intertwine with those of the music. The attendant presences of Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore and Martin Luther King emphasise the broader connections of the Gandhian story….Seriously engaging.”

The Guardian

Creative
Team

Director

Phelim McDermott

Designer

Julian Crouch

Conductor

Edward Gardner

Lighting Designer

Paule Constable

Associate Lighting Designer

Kevin Sleep

Costume Designer

Kevin Pollard

Video Design

Leo Warner
Mark Grimmer