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The opera Satyagraha by US composer Philip Glass, was staged in Sweden for the first time, opening on 14 September at Folkoperan in a co production with Cirkus Cirkör. The huge success resulted in a new premiere on 6 April 2017.
Opera singers and circus artists will meet on the Folkoperan stage in a space where anything can happen and the laws of gravity are suspended. The 1979 work includes scenes from the young Gandhi's life in South Africa. It was then he discovered Satyagraha, insistence on truth, which was to become the start of what we call civil disobedience. Gandhi went on to become one of the most famous people in the world within the non-violence movement.
The director Tilde Björfors is founder and artistic director of Cirkus Cirkör. Her previous works Wear it like a crown, Knitting Peace, Borders and Limits address subjects such as peace, borders, risks and opportunities. Her interpretation of Satyagraha further develops these themes and goes a step further in daring to believe in a peaceful path.
“Gandhi starting spinning the yarn than helped make India self sufficient and we are now further developing the knitted yarn from Knitting Peace. Rather than write an opera about Gandhi or his life, Philip Glass's opera is an experience of Gandhi instead. As such, I want to physically express this by leveraging the strength of circus and music together,” Björfors says.
US composer Philip Glass has been one of the most influential music makers of the late 20th century. Although his music is sometimes labelled minimalist, it is powerful and suggestive, often with an almost hypnotic power. Via world tours with his own ensemble and working with artists such as David Bowie and Laurie Anderson, he has acquired a large circle of admirers worldwide.
We can now experience Satyagraha for the first time in Sweden, in a version that, like Glass's music, suspends space and time. After his success with Hoffmann here at Folkoperan, Dan Potra returns as set designer.
MUSIC: Philip Glass
VOCAL TEXT: Constance De Jong after Bhagavad Gita
BOOK: Philip Glass and Constance de Jong,
ORCHESTRA ARRANGEMENT: Anders Högstedt
DIRECTOR: Tilde Björfors
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Matthew Wood
CONDUCTOR: Matthew Wood, Alice Farnham and Marit Strindlund
SET DESIGN & COSTUMES: Dan Potra
LIGHTING DESIGN: Patrik Bogårdh
MASKS & WIGS: Therésia Frisk
DRAMATIST: Magnus Lindman
GANDHI: Leif Aruhn-Solén/Thomas Volle
MISS SCHLESEN: Lisa Carlioth/Sibylle Glostedt
MRS NAIDOO: Hanna Fritzon/Paulina Pfeiffer
KASTURBAI/MRS ALEXANDER: Els Mondelaers/Karolina Blixt
MR KALLENBACH/ARJUNA: Anton Eriksson/Lars Johansson Brissman
PARSI RUSTOMJI/KRISHNA: Johan Schinkler/Lars Arvidson
CIRCUS ARTISTS: Aino Ihanainen, Alexander Weibel Weibel, Magnus Björu, Sarah Lett
CHOIR & ORCHESTRA
Satyagaha. An Opera in Three Acts by Philip Glass. Music by Philip Glass. Vocal text: Constance De Jong (adaptted from the "Bhagavad Gita"). Book by Philip Glass and Constance de Jong.©1980 Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc. Used by permission.
Act I Tolstoy
Scene 1 Kuru – The field of justice
Two royal families are engaged in a great battle. Before the conflict, Prince Arjuna converses with the God Krishna, who asks him to take a closer look at the men he will be fighting with. On closer inspection, it is clear that the armies consist of Indians against Europeans.
Scene 2 Tolstoy Farm – South Africa (1910)
Gandhi has organised the first combined resistance against South Africa's racist suppression of the Indian population. A cooperative community is established at Tolstoy Farm. It is an exercise in living a simple, new life in harmony with each other. Everything from preparing food to building houses is done by hand. The community is seeking Satyagraha – holding firmly to the path of truth.
Scene 3 Swearing of the Oath (1906)
The British government has proposed that all Indians in South Africa should re register and have their fingerprints taken. They must carry their residence permits at all times and the police can search their homes at any time. If anyone breaks these rules of order, they face fines, imprisonment or deportation. At a mass meeting of over 3,000 Indians, they resolve to resist this legal proposal - to the death. Each individual swears to God to uphold this resolution, even to the very last man.
Short seated break
Act II Tagore
Scene 1 Confrontation and rescue (1896)
Gandhi has been in India for six months and reported on the situation for Indian immigrants in South Africa. Thousands of Europeans in South Africa have read his speeches, and feelings have reached fever pitch on Gandhi's return. An enraged crowd that is becoming increasingly violent pursues Gandhi as he makes his way around Durban. The chief of police's wife intervenes and opens her umbrella as a shield. She takes Gandhi's side and ushers him to safety.
Scene 2 Indian Opinion (1906)
The movement has its own newspaper – Indian Opinion. The paper portrays everything in the light of the struggle and reports how the Satyagraha Principles are becoming more and more widespread. It does not accept advertising to avoid any external influences. The movement's weaknesses are candidly detailed to enable them to be rectified. Indian Opinion also gains international distribution and becomes an important weapon in the fight.
Scene 3 Protests (1908)
Several leaders of the movement are sentenced to imprisonment for refusing to accept deportation from South Africa. The members resolve to fill the prisons by provoking arrests. After a week, 150 Satyagrahis have been gaoled. The government then proposes to withdraw the proposed act, if the Indians agree to voluntary registration. They reach agreement on this, but once the Indians have met their side of the bargain, the government forces through the act in any case. The Indians then present their own ultimatum: if the act is not withdrawn, they will gather every Indian passport and burn them. The government refuses, and Gandhi holds a prayer meeting before all the passports are laid on the bonfire. Satyagraha has now had its baptism of fire.
Act III - King
The Newcastle March (1913)
With its openly racist laws, the government now controls new Indian immigrants and keeps the former working class in an iron grip. Once again, the government promises to withdraw the act, but breaks its promise yet again. Gandhi gathers miners at the mines in Newcastle. They are to march the forty kilometres to the Transvaal border. If they are arrested at passport control there, the five thousand strong army would swamp the prisons, with big costs and problems for the government as a consequence. If they are allowed to pass, they can make their way to Tolstoy Farm where they can extend the strike and maybe even persuade all 60,000 workers affected by the legislation to join the fight. Whatever the outcome, the government will come under tremendous pressure to withdraw the legislation – all within the rules prescribed by Satyagraha.