I saw *Satyagraha* at BAM on 11/1/18. I described it to my friend Jim earlier that day:
ME: It’s a Philip Glass opera about Mahatma Gandhi. In Sanskrit. It’s a Swedish production. With a circus theme.
JIM: Sounds like Art Torture to me.
Bullseye! BAM is the world capital for Art Torture, baby! And I’m their target audience.
I saw this opera at the Met about ten years ago and loved it. I could tell it would be a very different experience just walking into the Harvey Theater at BAM: the theater is comparatively small, and my seat was so close to the stage - - it would take me about five seconds to walk onto the stage, whereas at the Met, I feel like I’m in a different voting district.
The feeling of intimacy was reinforced in the production itself - - there were only 22 players in the orchestra and 8 singers in the chorus, and I bet the Met had four times that number in each. Conductor Matthew Wood brought out the transcendent aspect of the score. Leif Aruhun-Solén took top honors of the soloists for his beautiful singing as Gandhi.
It was the staging that made the show truly special. The opera itself is rather abstract and director Tilde Bjöfors of Cirkus Cirkör worked with that rather than against it. Bjöfors found fascinating moments to bring the circus into the opera. She incorporated elements that illustrated the themes of the opera - - the struggle, the building of community, the feeling of freedom. It was profoundly moving and deeply meaningful. The high point was Sarah Left in the Cyr wheel.
As I said, the opera is in Sanskrit - - the text is taken from the *Bhagavad Gita.* Select passages were projected onto the stage and printed in the program. Many of them seemed to have a particular impact in today’s political climate, which was also the case during the 2008 Met production, which happened during Occupy Wall Street. This passage packed a punch:
“He who renounces actions merely because of their difficulty, or out of fear of physical pain, thereby acts only in self-interest, and is not on the path of truth.”
[Photo by Stephanie Berger, courtesy of the BAM Press Office.]