ENO: Satyagraha

Philip Glass’s operatic masterpiece returns to English National Opera, with Toby Spence leading the cast in his role debut

Opens Thursday 1 February at 7pm at the London Coliseum (7 performances)

ENO revives an iconic piece of contemporary opera, Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, in February. This critically acclaimed production from visionary director Phelim McDermott and Associate Director / Set Designer Julian Crouch (co-founders of Improbable) broke box office records for 20th century opera on its UK premiere in 2007, making it the most popular contemporary work to be performed by ENO.

Satyagraha, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘truth force’, looks at Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa and his development of non-violent protests as a political tool. The story moves back and forth through Gandhi’s life, with the flow of time, words and music creating a hypnotic, almost ritualistic experience. Each of the three acts depicts a spiritual guardian who is linked to the Satyagraha philosophy. Act 1 features Tolstoy, Act 2 the Indian mystic and poet Tagore and Act 3 Martin Luther King Junior, representing the past, present and future of Satyagraha.

Performed in Sanskrit, Satyagraha is the second of Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about individuals who changed the world. The first was Einstein on the Beach (1976) and the third Akhnaten (1984) which had its UK premiere at ENO in 1985, sparking a special artistic relationship between Glass and the company. Contemporary opera and ongoing work with living composers are central to ENO’s mission, with four world or UK premieres staged by the company in the last twelve months.

Director Phelim McDermott is famed for his success in bringing Philip Glass’s works to ENO. For Satyagraha, he is reunited with conductor Karen Kamensek following their hugely successful production of Akhnaten in 2016, which won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production. Phelim is a founder member of Improbable. He has won various awards, including an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment, TMA Awards for Best Touring Production and Best Director and a Critics Circle Best Designer Award. He was awarded a National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts fellowship and an Honorary Doctorate from the Middlesex University.

Associate Director / Set Designer Julian Crouch – a founder member of Improbable –collaborated with innovate design studio 59 Productions to create the stunning visuals. 59 Productions, who make a welcome return to the Coliseum after their work on numerous ENO productions including Two Boys as well as 2009’s Doctor Atomic and 2017’s Marnie,are famed for the video projection in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Distinguished London-born tenor Toby Spence sings the principal role of M.K. Gandhi for the first time, taking over from Alan Oke who has performed the role since the 2007 premiere. An ENO regular, Spence returns to the Coliseum having recently performed Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni) at the Liceu Barcelona; Captain Vere in the Teatro Real’s new production of Billy Budd; and Eisenstein (Die Fledermaus) and Antonio (The Tempest) for the Metropolitan Opera, New York.