«Metropolitan Opera patrons, mostly bound by tradition, might not seem a likely source of Glass fans. But when Mr. Glass appeared onstage after the Met’s first performance of “Satyagraha,” on Friday night, the audience erupted in a deafening ovation.
Sometimes, with its aerial feats and puppetry, the Met production relies too much on stage activity. Still, it’s quite a show. Mr. McDermott and Mr. Crouch have assembled a group of acrobats and aerialists called the Skills Ensemble, who produce magical effects. In once scene they form a huge puppet queen clothed in newspaper who goes to battle against a hulking puppet warrior assembled from wicker baskets. The use of simple materials is meant as homage to the poor, oppressed minorities for whom Gandhi gave his life.
Because Gandhi relied on the news media of his day to support his agitation for human rights and published his own journal, Indian Opinion, newspapers are a running image in the production. Actors fashion pages into symbolic barriers for protests. At one point, in despair, Gandhi disappears into a slithering mass of people and paper.
The cast entered into the ritualistic wonder of the work and the production despite solo and choral parts that are often formidably hard. It’s almost cruel to ask male choristers to sing foursquare, monotone repetitions of “ha, ha, ha, ha” for nearly 10 minutes, as Mr. Glass does. Yet the chorus sang with stamina and conviction.
Besides Mr. Croft, other standouts in the excellent cast included the soprano Rachelle Durkin as Gandhi’s secretary, Miss Schlesen; the mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak as his wife; the bass-baritone Alfred Walker as Parsi Rustomji, a co-worker; and the baritone Earle Patriarco as Mr. Kallenbach, a European co-worker and ally. You are not likely to hear the long, ethereal sextet in the last act sung with more calm intensity and vocal grace than it was here.
Ultimately, despite its formulaic elements, “Satyagraha” emerges here as a work of nobility, seriousness, even purity. In the final soliloquy, timeless and blithely simple, Gandhi hauntingly sings an ascending scale pattern in the Phrygian mode 30 times. To some degree the ovation at the end, after a 3-hour-45-minute evening, was necessary. The audience had to let loose after all that contemplation.»