BWW Reviews: PHILIP GLASS PORTRAIT TRILOGY: SATYAGRAHA Completes an Amazing Week of Opera

Reviewed Saturday 9th August 2014

Satyagraha is the final of the three operas in this trilogy and concerns Mahatma Gandhi whose concept of passive resistance changed history and politics, leading to India throwing off the yoke of British rule. For this trilogy, Adam Goodburn reprises the role of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi that he played several years ago when this opera was presented alone. Mahatma is an honorific title meaning great soul. The Sanskrit term, satyagraha, literally means "truth force", the word for Gandhi's concept of non-violent resistance. Each of the three acts refers to a major figure relevant to Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, RabindranathTagore, and Martin Luther King. Each act has three scenes, with the text taken from the Bhagavad Gita and sung in the original Sanskrit.

For this opera there are some changes as, alongside the State Opera Chorus and soloists, members of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra perform the music, and the Adelaide College of the Arts Dance Ensemble have the wonderful opportunity to perform in such a major work.

If you thought that the State Opera Chorus in the first two operas couldn't get any better, you are in for a surprise. In Satyagraha they are truly magnificent, giving an inspired performance that soars, whispers, roars, and is filled with powerful emotions. They have never been better and are a credit to Maestro Timothy Sexton.

Leigh Warren has not spared the dancers, placing the same expectations on them as he does his own company members. He has expected, and received a very professional performance from these young people, and he and they deserve acclaim for their work together.

It needs hardly saying that the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra always maintains the highest standards and their performance, too, is captivating, showing a strong understanding of the music and demonstrating an enthusiasm for it. All of this is what the soloists have supporting them.

Once again, Mary Moore's design and Geoff Cobham's lighting combine to great effect, with a full stage set of steps and a huge moon at the rear, providing interest through the use of various levels for the action, and a canvas for Cobham's vast palette of colours, and patterns of light and shade.

Our first view of Gandhi sees him dressed in a three piece suit and tie, the dancers sit in half lotus position, and Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna, key figures in the Bhagavad Gita, appear to flank him, while the singers appear, a row up either side of the steps, dressed in desert camouflage and carrying longbows. The blue lighting tints everything in that coolness, apart from Gandhi, in his dark suit, the red skinned Prince Arjuna, in camouflage gear and wide brimmed hat, and the blue skinned Lord Krishna, in airman's dress, both carrying bows. The performance was packed with such visual spectacles.

The absolutely vital role in this work is, of course, that of Gandhi. Adam Goodburn impressed with his earlier performance and he has since grown in artistic stature such that his current performance shows the effect of having played several other solo roles and gained in experience, coupled with a greater insight into the role and the man, Gandhi. What we get from him this time is an unsurpassable performance as an incredibly complex character who posses an innate calm and great spirituality. He succeeds in instilling a great warmth and gentleness in his voice. Goodburn doesn't play Gandhi; he IS Gandhi.

We watch as Gandhi gradually strips away the western trappings to eventually reach that simple life and mode of dress with which we are familiar. He wore the dhoti and shawl, which he hand wove himself using a charkha, ate vegetarian meals and often fasted, sometimes to purify himself and sometimes as a protest. Some of the important moments in his life are depicted, such as burning his ID card and encouraging others to do the same, while he was in South Africa, where he was given the title, Mahatma. While in Durban back in 1897 he was attacked by a mob of white settlers and was saved by Mrs. Alexander, the wife of the police Superintendent, who fought his attackers with her parasol.

In 1930 he led the long march to the sea to protest against the salt tax imposed by the British, for which the British imprisoned 60,000 people, and in 1942 he called for the British to leave India. He succeeded in 1947, but the British divided the country, handing Pakistan to the Muslim community. He was also imprisoned more than once for his beliefs. In 1910 he created a community called Tolstoy Farm, also referenced in this work. The richness of his life and the many events associated with him are amply reflected in this production.

Cherie Boogaart is wonderful as Kasturbai, Ghandi's wife, bringing a very sympathetic characterisation to the role of the woman who supported him through all of the tough times. Deborah Caddy's crisp clear soprano suits the role of his secretary Miss Schlessen and Naomi Hede, as Mrs. Naidoo, wife of a friend who was sent to jail, lost her baby, and was one of the first women to join his movement, gives a sensitive reading to the role.

Andrew Turner is his European colleague Mr. Kallenbach, giving another of his superb performances and, as his Indian co-worker, Parsi Rustomji, Jeremy Tatchell makes a very fine job of the role. Mark Oates, as Prince Arjuna, and Joshua Rowe, as Lord Krishna, are a very strong pairing as they each put forward an argument in favour of either action, or non-action in the face of conflict. Action comes out ahead, which Gandhi accepts. Deborah Johnson makes a formidable Mrs Alexander, more than handy with a thrust and parry with her brolly.

This is top quality opera in every direction, no matter what criteria you care to judge it against. Timothy Sexton and Leigh Warren have pulled of a major coup, not only with this opera but with the entire trilogy, and they cannot be commended highly enough for taking on such a massive project and creating something so memorable.

This production of the trilogy simply has to be considered for a tour, not only within Australia and across to New Zealand, but to Europe and the USA. It would be unfair to keep it to ourselves. It would come as no surprise to me if it was to be included in the next Edinburgh Festival.

There are two more cycles of this amazing trilogy so you still have a chance to see them, but don't wait too long to book because word is spreading quickly.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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