Friday, March 19, 2010

Satyagraha@ English National Opera

Da da da da dad dad dad
Da Da
Dadadadadadadadadadad ... dadadadadadaaa

Doodle-a-coodle-a-toodle-a-loodle-a-doodle-a-poodle ...


Philip Glass' opera "Satyagraha" is wonderful music to have on when you're studying. I can testify that three hours of repeated arpeggi over what might as well be random pieces of Sanskrit is the perfect way to soothe your subconscious while your forebrain is trying to make sense of such wonders as the Jordan curve theorem.

Quarter of a century later, I've forgotten everything I know about abstract algebra, but at the performance of Satyagraha by the ENO in London I saw this week, I was shocked at how I had near note-perfect recall of the music.

I should have brought an algebra book though, because unfortunately there's not enough happening on the stage to keep your forebrain occupied.

It's meant to be about how Tolstoy, Tagore, Gandhi and Martin Luther King are stages on the road to "Satyagraha" ("Truth Power"). What that actually involves on stage is men on stilts doing huge origami, giant puppets, and (about 90% of the time) people walking in exaggerated slo-mo across the stage ...

.. left
... to ... right

and then

right ...
to ... left

and then ...

(repeat until brain death - and then a couple more times for luck)

I nearly had a giggle-fit during one of the big metaphorical half-hour paper-folding sessions. It was solemn and serious and probably as allegorical as all get-out, but without warning, my mind conjured up the image of Rolf Harris sitting next to me and whispering in my ear :-
"Can you guess what it is yet ?"
That said, there were many positive points to the evening. The vocalists were incredible, the score is inventive and well worth hearing and the concert orchestra were patient and disciplined.

But bring a book. Or some ironing. Or Rolf Harris.

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