SATYAGRAHA | English National Opera, London Coliseum

Philip Glass’ 2007 box-office-breaking opera is still receiving a rapturous standing ovation in its third revival. Sung in Sanskrit, with a few projected surtitles, the non-linear action provides a meditation on the life and legacy of M. K. Gandhi (Toby Spence).

In the third act, a black man is clothed and climbs a ladder, climbing through the curved back wall of corrugated iron to a lectern with microphones and a backdrop of swirling yellow clouds: this is Martin Luther King. The opera opens with a battle between Arjuna (Eddie Wade) and Krishna (Andrí Björn Róbertsson), portrayed by enormous puppets made out of newspaper and junk.

There is a seven-page essay in the programme delineating the (translated) libretto and the politics surrounding it, but the spirit of the opera is poetic and mythic, not historical or academic. Glass’ minimalist score (with trademark oscillating thirds) finds nuance and magic in harmonic and melodic shifts of just a semitone.

With such repetitive and glacial material (both musically and visually), three and a half hours seems unnecessary. Even so, there are so many moments of beautiful and arresting material, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Eleven years on, still a highly unique and memorable work.

Until 27 February 2018. ENO are committed to providing 500 tickets for £20 or less every performance.

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