Philip Glass

Philip Glass: Satyagraha

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The first sound one hears is Douglas Perry's breathtakingly pure tenor intoning Sanskrit syllables from the Bhagavad-Gita, followed immediately by low strings scurrying behind. The sense of serene and confident purpose is entirely apparent, Perry's voice the perfect embodiment of the Ghandian philosophy of strength through pacifism. As the act continues, other voices are added, the full orchestra enters, all unhurried but purposeful growing in a calm force until subsiding at the end to Perry (Ghandi) alone. So begins Philip Glass' most impressive and complete opera after Einstein on the Beach, its predecessor. It's a far more traditional work in several respects: aside from Michael Riesman's electric keyboards, Satyagraha is scored for standard orchestra, and the voices are grouped much as found in European opera, with arias, duos, trios, and quartets. The overall sound is softer and less strident than in Einstein, with material that is more overtly melodic, though certainly an audience used to Verdi would still be baffled by the extreme repetitive aspect, not to mention a librtto entirely in Sanskrit. Without Robert Wilson's spectacular staging, the homebound listener may find Satyagraha a bit long and, in fact, that may be the case, but objections are tough to register after the concluding aria by Perry. Heard only once, the listener may not believe that he is simply singing a scale albeit with varying Sanskrit syllables, so gorgeous is the line and intonation. But to Glass' enormous credit, he has succeeded in fashioning a beautiful melody out of the barest materials and, in the process, created the perfect analogy for one of the leading figures of the 20th century. Highly recommended.

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