Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Satyagraha

Wow: Googling around while relaxing in that twenty minutes before bedtime I find this:
Se Reich e' l'Haydn del minimalismo, Adams ne e' il Mozart, gia' teso ad un geniale, e talvolta irriverente, superamento del classicismo.
The other night we went to the "Live TV broadcast" or whatever they call it from the Metropolitan Opera to the local charter-school auditorium, rather an ambitions building, of Philip Glass's opera Satyagraha. If Reich is the Haydn and Adams the Mozart, then Glass, at least in this opera, is the Verdi of minimalism. No: let me quickly amend that. In some scenes he's the Verdi; in others, notably the great closing scene, he's one of the Richard Strausses.

We saw the opera once before, and can't remember where and when. Probably the San Francisco Opera production, though my visual memory of the event suggests a different house. This season's Met production is very different, what you might call second-generation Robert Wilson, tricked out with immense puppets and aerialists and such. It's hard to tell from the absurd film-as-cosmos style of these movie-theater broadcasts just what the impact in the real theater might have been: the film production alternates between close-ups, long shots, and side-to-side pans, sometimes in a tempo so quick and a sequence so unpredictable and chaotic as to leave at least this onlooker physically confused.

I've railed so many times about these collisions of scale — the amplified string quartet as loud as three Wagner orchestras; the soprano's face as big as four billboards — that I hate to harp on it yet again. But this is a serious matter, folks: scalar confusions of this sort not only physically confound the audience's entrails, throwing them into a nauseated discomfort warning of impending doom; they also misrepresent the point of the message at hand — in this case, a very beautifully conceived and proportioned masque representing Ghandi's discovery of his purpose, the principle of nonviolent resistance, the forward-looking triumph of good sense and comprehension over stubborn authority and oppressiveness. Glass's opera is all sensitivity, grace, introspection, receptivity; this video production of his opera lurches, insists, moons, cajoles.

The singing was mostly first-rate. I don't know if anyone could have bettered Richard Croft's performance as Ghandi; that closing scene, though long, floated beautifully; it was hard to let it go.

But what must poor Phil have thought of the Met's including long excerpts of Wagner's Ring in the second intermission? I suppose you can argue there's historical precedent here; two centuries ago it wasn't uncommon to play comedies in the intervals of opera seria. But Wagner?

2 comments:

sfmike said...

I haven't been to any of the "Live Broadcasts" because I've been afraid of the sound, and now you tell me that I need to be afraid of the camerawork too.

The "Satyagraha" you saw was probably the same one I attended back in the early 1980s at the San Francisco Opera. I remember it as some kind of touring production during the summer that was being presented under the auspices of the SF Opera, or something like that. It featured the original Gandhi from the CBS Recording, Douglas Perry, who was something special, but otherwise the production was pretty simpleminded.

Charles Shere said...

No no; this was the Metropolitan Opera production, brand new and quite effective I thought, if anything a little distractingly over-produced with aerialists, puppets, stiltwalkers and the like, a splendid chorus, effective costumes and lighting, all rather in the manner of classical Indian theater, in my understanding…