Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
Occupy Met Opera
November 05, 2011
Philip Galss’ Satyagraha returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Friday in a revival of the successful 2008 production of the work. Now I want you to stop and read that sentence again and think about it. Would anyone have predicted five years ago that this is something anyone, anywhere would be writing about the Metropolitan Opera today? It’s been a popular pastime lately to rag on the company’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, and his shortcomings. You’ve read all this elsewhere I’m sure: Gelb can’t deal with the chronic absenteeism of music director James Levine, Gelb hasn’t succeeded in bringing good new home-grown productions to the house, Gelb has no artistic vision for the house overall, etc. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t legitimate issues in these criticisms. Nor would I argue that critics, online or otherwise shouldn’t be critical. But I think it’s also easy to forget some of the great things that have happened during his tenure (besides the Live in HD broadcasts) that probably wouldn’t have appeared on the Met stage otherwise. (From the House of the Dead, Shostakovich’s The Nose, two John Adams’ operas, etc.) That Satyagraha got here, came back a second time, and in fact will be broadcast as part of the popular Live in HD series of November 19th is nothing short of a miracle. It’s also the best thing to happen at the Met so far this season.
As you may recall, Satyagraha concerns the years that Gandhi spent in South Africa and his awakening as an activist for non-violent social change. The scenes are not in chronological order and the text is taken from the Bhagavad Gita and is philosophical as opposed to directly narrative or descriptive. What’s more the production does not use supertitles and instead the text is periodically projected on the set. As Glass himself notes in his program notes, the point of the opera is not to follow a biographical narrative as much as to get a sense of the emotional content of a period of intense social struggle and change.
I continue to be amazed at the sheer amount of visual creativity and constant inventiveness of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch’s production. There is always something interesting going on, and yet none of it is so elaborate that it overwhelms the beautiful, meditative unfolding of Glass’ score. Granted on Friday’s opening some of the cues weren’t quite so sharp and the set was unexpectedly clunky in a couple of scene changes. The giant puppet battle in Act I was somewhat sluggish compared to the prior run. But these are things that will likely resolve over the course of the run. I don’t want to say more because part of the fun is the surprise of it all, and if you haven’t seen this show you should.
Musically, many of the artists from the previous run have returned. Dante Anzolini is back in the pit and led a well-managed performance alongside the superlative chorus work under Chorus Master Donald Palumbo. Richard Croft reprises his role as Gandhi, and has some beautifully warm singing throughout. I was also particularly drawn to Rachelle Durkin’s performance as Miss Schlesen, Gandhi’s secretary. But this is first and foremost an ensemble piece and the real beauty comes when chorus and soloists are all onstage together awash in the slow and steady changes in the music. Glass returned to the stage for a curtain call and, as before, received the biggest ovation. And it was just as exciting as last time. Good for him and good for the Metropolitan Opera.
I saw it Friday at The Met. (And I saw some freakishly dressed people. Like the "dude" in the leather skirt with the helmet and the old man socks.)
I don't know what to make of it. I thought some of it was quite boring. And hit you over the head (the King wordless oration scene seemed endless). On the plus side, there was a very nice row of shoes set out at one point. And who doesn't like big puppets.
Unlike the people in front of me, I was awake for most of it and I stayed until the end. Critics misinterpret (surprise) the applause though. Part of it is simply for the effort. Part we're cheering ourselves for having sat there for 3-3/4 hours.
If you like opera I would say try it. Why not. I doesn't have any fat people screeching in Italian though. So if that is your thing you will be disappointed.