Satyagraha is an opera composed by Philip Glass, with a libretto by Glass and Constance DeJong that was first performed in the Netherlands in 1980. It has most recently been performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2007 and again in 2011.

Excerpt from Satyagraha:

Though the term has no exact equivalent in English, the Sanskrit word “satya” means “truth,” and “satyagraha”—coined 100 years ago by Mohandas K. Gandhi—stands for “truth force” or “holding onto the truth.” It became the central tenet of Gandhi’s movement against anti-Indian racism in South Africa, which later grew into the campaign for Indian independence from British rule. The movement fascinated composer Glass, who in 1979 wrote an opera about Gandhi’s South Africa years. The work premiered at the New York Metropolitan Opera in April 2008.

Gandhi and his followers did not rely on weapons in this struggle. They chose the power of belief, imagining a world they wanted to live in, drawing strength from their shared conviction, and eventually seeing that world into being. The brutal political and social environment of the 1970s prompted Glass to explore Gandhi’s ideas of change and non-violence, which, in his view, are more relevant than ever today. “Gandhi was a great man who thought the power of truth could change the world,” he says. “But we’re still struggling with that.”

satyagrahaThe continued relevance of Gandhi’s beliefs is underlined in the opera by references to three historic figures: Leo Tolstoy (with whom Gandhi had a formative correspondence), Rabindranath Tagore (an Indian writer and the only living moral authority Gandhi acknowledged), and Martin Luther King, Jr., who of course postdated Gandhi but who carried his ideas forward. For Glass, revisiting Satyagraha is a reminder that the struggle to end violence is far from over: “Every time someone tries to do it, or does do it, I am buoyed up by the idea that maybe this conversation about social change can somehow be helped along with another look at Gandhi’s life.”

Director, Phelim McDermott, too, says the opera’s content is timely: “I think there’s a modern media version of what protest might be. Protest doesn’t happen if you protest for a day and hope something’s going to change. It’s about a commitment to everybody staying with something, and as with Satyagraha, the changes don’t happen overnight. People stuck with that commitment and there were key moments when they made specific non-violent protests. And the change did happen.” As The Guardian’s Tim Ashley wrote: “The whole thing serves as a monumental affirmation of human dignity at a time when many have begun to question its very existence—and for that, we must be infinitely grateful.” —Excerpted article written by Karen Fricker for the New York Metropolitan Opera