Opera Profile: Philip Glass’ ‘Satyagraha’

By David Salazar

Philip Glass’ operas have had unique places in the standard repertoire, present, but not quite firmly established in the canon of most opera houses.

His work “Satyagraha” has recently seen its profile increase quite prominently since its debut on Sept. 5, 1980, as the opera was featured prominently as part of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series. The entire text is sung in Sanskrit and the work is scored for an orchestra that includes no brass or percussion.

For those familiar with Glass’ musical style (which is often described as minimalist, despite his own refusal to acknowledge it as such), there won’t be many surprises with this score.

Short Plot Summary

The opera itself revolves around the significance of its title, which roughly translates to “loyalty to truth” and historic figures that have demonstrated it. With Gandhi at the core of the work, each of the three major acts looks to a predecessor for Gandhi’s plight, starting with Leo Tolstoy, then turning to Rabindranath Tagore before finishing up with Martin Luther King.

The opera itself follows no traditional plot structure, but instead aims for experiential expression, much in the vein of Glass’ other operas in his portrait trilogy.

Watch and Listen

Below is the recording from the opera’s world premiere in Rotterdam, starring Douglas Perry as Mahatma Gandhi.


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