Satyagraha (opera)

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Opera by Philip Glass
Philip Glass in Florence, Italy - 1993.jpg
The composer in 1993
Based onlife of Mahatma Gandhi
September 5, 1980 (1980-09-05)

Satyagraha (/ˈsɑːtjəˈɡrɑːhɑː/; Sanskrit सत्याग्रह, satyāgraha "insistence on truth") is a 1979 opera in three acts for orchestra, chorus and soloists, composed by Philip Glass, with a libretto by Glass and Constance DeJong.

Loosely based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, it forms the second part of Glass's "Portrait Trilogy" of operas about men who changed the world, which also includes Einstein on the Beach and Akhnaten.

Glass's style can broadly be described as minimalist. The work is scored for 2 sopranos, 2 mezzo-sopranos, 2 tenors, a baritone, 2 basses, a large SATB chorus, and an orchestra of strings and woodwinds only, no brass or percussion. Principal roles are Sonja Schlesin, Mahatma Gandhi, Hermann Kallenbach and Parsi Rustomji.

The title refers to Gandhi's concept of nonviolent resistance to injustice, Satyagraha, and the text, from the Bhagavad Gita, is sung in the original Sanskrit. In performance, translation is usually provided in supertitles.


Role Voice type
M.K.Gandhi tenor
Lord Krishna bass
Parsi Rustomji bass
Mrs Alexander mezzo-soprano
Mrs Naidoo soprano
Kasturbai mezzo-soprano
Mrs Schlesen soprano
Mr. Kallenbach baritone
Prince Arjuna baritone

Performance history[edit]

Gandhi in Berlin, performed 25 October 2017

Satyagraha was commissioned by the city of Rotterdam, Netherlands, and first performed at the Schouwburg [nl] (Municipal Theatre) there on September 5, 1980, by the Netherlands Opera, featuring the choir of the Rotterdam Conservatory and the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra [nl], conducted by Bruce Ferden [de].[1]

The opera premiered in North America at the Artpark in Lewiston, New York, on July 29, 1981. That production was mounted later that year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[2] The opera was also staged that same year by the Stuttgart Opera (which went on to perform the complete trilogy in 1990); this production was taped during its revival in 1983 and released on video.[3]

The Lyric Opera of Chicago presented the first production by a major international opera company on September 28, 1987, at the Civic Opera House. Douglas Perry sang the role of Gandhi.[4]

The UK premiere was a joint production by Bath Spa University and Frome Community College in the theatre of Kingswood School in Bath in 1997.[5]

Performance by San Francisco Opera at the War Memorial Opera House in 1989 [6]

Silviu Purcărete [ro] staged a new production of the opera in 2004 at the Theater Bonn, Germany, with a revival in 2013, with Ulrich Windfuhr conducting the Beethoven Orchester Bonn.[7]

A new staging by the English National Opera and Improbable theatre, co-produced by the Metropolitan Opera, opened in London in April 2007[8] and in New York in April 2008.[9] It was revived in London in February 2010[10] and in New York in November 2011; the New York performance on November 19 was part of the Met Opera: Live in HD series. It aired on Great Performances from PBS in 2012, Season 39 Episode 19 on March 22 and March 25.[11] The Metropolitan Opera's 2011 production was streamed online on June 21 and November 1, 2020.[12][13]

On September 16, 2014, a new production was staged at the Ekaterinburg State Academic Opera in Russia. The creative team included Thaddeus Strassberger (direction and scenic design), Mattie Ullrich (costume design) and Oliver von Dohnányi (conductor).

A new production by Folkoperan and Cirkus Cirkör, directed by Tilde Björfors [sv] and conducted by Matthew Wood premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater on October 31, 2018.[14] [15] [16]

On 18 November 2018, Vlaamse Opera premiered a production by director and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, together with stage designer Henrik Ahr and costume designer Jan-Jan Van Essche [17]


The opera is in three acts, each referencing a major related cultural figure.

Act 1[edit]

Leo Tolstoy

Act 2[edit]

Rabindranath Tagore

Act 3[edit]

Martin Luther King Jr.

  • The Newcastle March (1913)


  • Sheryl Woods (Mrs. Naidoo), Douglas Perry (M.K. Gandhi); Christopher Keene (Conductor), New York City Opera orchestra and chorus. 1984 (Sony)
  • D. Anzolini; Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus. 2021 (Orange Machine Music)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Satyagraha,
  2. ^ Donal Henahan, "'Satyagraha,' Tale of Ghandi, in Brooklyn," New York Times, November 9, 1981.
  3. ^ Mark Deming (2008). "Movies: About Philip Glass: Satyagraha". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 14, 2008. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  4. ^ "Lyric Opera Stages a Transcendental Success". Chicago Tribune.
  5. ^ Johnson, Phil (February 20, 1997). "Review: Opera Satyagraha Kingswood School, Bath". The Independent. London. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
  6. ^ "OPERA REVIEW: San Francisco Opera Offers Satyagraha".
  7. ^ Lohmann, Gunild (June 10, 2013). "Philip Glass' Gandhi-Oper Satyagraha wieder auf dem Spielplan". General-Anzeiger (in German). Bonn.
  8. ^ Finch, Hilary (7 April 2007). "Satyagraha". The Times. London. Retrieved 23 May 2010. (subscription required)
  9. ^ "Satyagraha". Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  10. ^ "Satyagraha". Archived from the original on April 7, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2010.
  11. ^ "GP at the Met: Satyagraha". Great Performances - PBS. 9 March 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  12. ^ "Nightly Opera Streams, June 15–21, 2020".
  13. ^ "Weekly Guide: October 26–November 1, 2020". Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  14. ^ "BAM Satyagraha". New York. Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  15. ^ Paget, Clive (October 30, 2018). "Aussie conductor Matthew Wood brings a Swedish Satyagraha to Brooklyn". Limelight Magazine. Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  16. ^ Schaefer, John (October 31, 2018). "Opera Takes To The Air In New Satyagraha Production". WNYC. New York. Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  17. ^ "Satyagraha - Philip Glass (°1937)".

External links[edit]