In spite of the daily onslaught of downbeat news falling under the heading of “man’s inhumanity to man,” there has been some interesting research published lately suggesting that the world has become a measurably less violent place over the past century than it had been in previous historical eras. If that is so, perhaps Time magazine got it wrong in 1999 when it named Albert Einstein its Person of the Century. Maybe Mohandas K. Gandhi shouldn’t have been merely a runner-up.
Perhaps it’s also not coincidental that Minimalist composer Philip Glass has written operas about both of these movers-and-shakers: the man who provided the theoretical underpinnings for nuclear weaponry and the man who transformed the concept of “nonviolence” from the absence of something into a powerful positive force for world change. That force of what the Mahatma termed satyagraha (Sanskrit for “insistence on truth”) has since been wielded with profound effects by such heroes as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Corazón Aquino and Nelson Mandela. It is the flicker of hope lurking in the bottom of Pandora’s Box after all the plagues of humankind have escaped, keeping us going in spite of the despair that the image of the mushroom cloud makes us feel.
Composed in 1979, Glass’s Satyagraha tells the story of Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, where he developed his philosophy of nonviolence, with three acts separately referencing Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore and Dr. King. The libretto, taken directly from the Bhagavad Gita, is sung in Sanskrit.
The Metropolitan Opera premiered its production of Satyagraha in 2008, to great acclaim, and has revived it for seven performances during the current season. A high-definition simulcast will be beamed out to the nationwide network of theatres participating in The Met: Live in HD, and you can see it on the big screen at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston this Sunday, November 20 at 1 p.m.
Tickets go for $23 general admission, $21 for Bardavon members and $16 for children aged 12 and under. They are available at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; the UPAC box office at 602 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; or online at www.bardavon.org. The Met: Live in HD will next return to our neck of the woods with Handel’s Rodelinda on December 3 at the Bardavon and Gounod’s Faust on December 17 at UPAC.
If you go, don’t forget to bring a jar of peanut butter, a bag of rice or a can of tuna with you: The Bardavon and UPAC will be accepting nonperishable food items for distribution at the Beverly Close Memorial Food Pantry in Poughkeepsie and the Queens Galley in Kingston. Items will be collected during all upcoming performances. Drop-offs can be made at performances or during Bardavon box office hours, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 11 a.m. to final intermission on days of performances; during UPAC box office hours, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and from 11 a.m. to final intermission on days of performances. It’s a convenient opportunity to practice a little satyagraha close to home.