Good but way too long, repetitive, and incomprehensible
This 1980 Philip Glass opera is about Gandhi, but not all of Gandhi's life. Instead, it covers, or rather symbolizes, Gandhi's 20 years in South Africa.
The singing is good, and Richard Croft as Gandhi is wonderful and evocative.
Beyond that, the opera and production have a ton of problems, though.
Firstly, it is sung entirely in Sanskrit. And we are not given subtitles. Or rather, the Met has chosen to give us subtitles for maybe 5% at most of what is sung.
Secondly, aside from Gandhi, we don't know who anybody is. There are eight principal soloists besides Gandhi, who are onstage a lot and who sing a lot, but except for someone blue who appears to be Krishna, we have no idea who anybody is or why they are there or what they are doing.
Thirdly, nothing really happens. Or rather, over the course of three hours, maybe four or five actual discernible events seem to happen (at least symbolically), but we have no idea really what they are, where we are or what is going on because it's all in very slow motion if at all, and as mentioned, no indications are given and no subtitles explain them.
Fourthly, the production is filled instead with virtually meaningless "skill performers" who do a sort of very slow-motion Cirque de Soleil routine through some parts. This may distract us from the fact that we are watching three hours filled with nothing comprehensible, but it can't for long because even mimes and puppets get boring quickly if you don't know what they represent or why.
Fifth, the opera is way to long. It's three hours long, and doesn't have enough action or even words to fill even 20 minutes. It would have been quite good at 90 minutes (provided subtitles and explanations and identifications were included), but no longer. This is Philip Glass's problem. He needs an editor. The music is endlessly, endlessly repetitive. And most of it is instrumental -- not sung. I have to say the final vocal motif, which is repeated a few times, is good and haunting, but the entire opera needs a very firm hand and a razor to cut out half of it. It's just unnecessary, tiresome, irritating, and frustrating -- a deterrent to something that in a truncated form could have been a brilliant opera..
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