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Audio CD, Box set, October 25, 1990
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Satyagraha remains, decades after its composition, one of Philip Glass's most traditional works. An emphasis on strings and on courtly, European-toned small choruses lends the opera a sense of musical familiarity rarely evidenced in the composer's extensive catalog. The libretto, though written in Sanskrit, is often mistakable, sonorously, for Italian. Satyagraha's relative independence from the internecine Indian raga-like patterns of the composer's other long-form work is particularly ironic given the opera's subject: Mahatma Ghandi, whose native country's ritual culture and spiritual heritage have long informed Glass's music. This is no dramatic biography; following a mythological gambit, the scenes focus on a handful of specific events in Ghandi's long life (the construction of a communal farm, his tumultuous arrival in Durban, the publication of the weekly broadside Indian Opinion). Pointedly, the opera is an international affair, each of its three acts referencing a major cultural figure: Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, and Martin Luther King Jr. The music is most interesting when Glass draws parallels between his patented, minimalist patterns and standard classical mode. --Marc Weidenbaum
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I have never met a Philip Glass album I didn't like.
So why do I say this opera is 'unjustly ignored'? Well, there are two types of Glass fans. First, the hard minimalists who like most of the Glass ensemble's electronic works, like Einstein and Music for Twelve Parts. Then, there are the newer Glass fans, who like his more traditional, orchestral works, like the Low Symphony and his film scores. The problem is that "Satyagraha" is the pivot between the two and has alienated both fans. It is very close to Glass's earlier style in it's insistent repititon with slight variations that the will bore the orchestral fans but the Glass ensemble fans will feel cheated by the warm orchestral touch. So this great opera has fallen through the cracks by defying categorization in the Glass repitoire.
To confess my bias, I am much more a fan of Glass's old style (Yes, I've listened to Einstein straight through!). This opera, though, has one thing that neither of the other two (or, god help us, his chamber opera) have is a certain purity. Here, Glass is a orchestra novice and as such, is very conservative, keeping many techniques of the Glass ensemble and adding to them the warmth of violins, strings and operatic vocal (no percussion.) In the later acts, we do hear foreshadowing of his emerging orchestral future, but it is much more authentic than Akhnaten. I stronly reccomend that Glass fans, of old and new, listen because there is much here for both to appreciate.