Opera League News & Articles

Bob Bernard's Corner: From Sanskrit to Our Script


By Bob Bernard

Although centuries apart, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and Glass’s Satyagraha have some interesting parallels:

1. Each opera is associated with a particular trilogy:
Mozart had Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte [WAM’s collaborations with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte], while Glass has Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha and Akhnaten [His commemorative series about three men who changed the world].

2. Each contains borrowed music first composed from an earlier element of its associated trilogy:
Mozart used the same march tune that concluded Figaro’s first-act-ending "Non più andrai” [Figaro’s teasing Cherubino as the lad departs for military duty] again in Scene 2, Act 1 of Cosi as “Bella vita militar”, Don Alfonso’s set-up of Fiordiligi and Dorabella to think that their boyfriends are going off to war (opera’s early venture into fake news); Glass used some leftover music from unused entr’acte knee plays in Einstein for Satyagraha.

3. Each contains pronounced autobiographical characteristics of its composer:
(A) Mozart’s Cosi reflects his young love life experiences. While living in Vienna, he fell in love with his landlady’s daughter Aloysia Webber, but was forbidden to marry her by her mother. Instead, of course, he was given consent and married Aloysia’s sister Constanza, this, of course, readily invokes comparison with the switching of partners in Cosi. With the late first act aria “Un'aura amorosa” [A loving breath], Mozart spoke to us through the voice of Ferrando with a heart-rending yearning for his misdirected love.
(B) Glass’s Satyagraha is also autobiographical. Glass’s conversion to Hinduism reflects his commonality with Gandhi’s concept of non-violent resistance to injustice. The opera’s title conforms to the way the basic tenets of the religious faith of Gandhi have been embedded into the libretto. This reference to Gandhi's concept of non-violent resistance to injustice goes back to the Bhagavad Gita, the 2,500 year-old Hindu text, and is sung in the original Sanskrit.

Gandhi clearly adhered to the yoga ideal of Karma yoga, referred to as "the path of unselfish action," a way of life unconcerned with whatever personal rewards might ensue or whether personal success or failure might come about. The meditative facets of Karma yoga mesh well with the relentless, reiterative arpeggiation that characterizes Glass’s music. In performance, selected, abridged translation is usually provided in supertitles. Here below is one sample from the Gita, organized to include the original Sanskrit, the phonetized pronunciation of this Sanskrit example and the English translation:

This example from the Gita and set in a battlefield has been interpreted as an allegory for the ethical and moral struggles of the human life.

4. Each opera ends with a look towards the future. Cosi’s ending is fatalistic:
The four young people reiteratively sing “Bella calma troverà” [May you have a beautiful peace] as a despairing plea for peace of mind. Satyagraha’s ending, however, is prophetically positive, the Met’s staging presciently showing the figure of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background.

Finally, both Cosi and Satyagraha are each radical departures from their companions in their respective trilogies: Cosi - unlike Figaro and Giovanni --- is not about them, not about the philandering Count Almaviva in Figaro and not about the serial shagger that is Don Giovanni, but rather about us (ordinary people).

Similarly, Satyagraha’s smooth-flowing construction is the polar opposite to the collection of somewhat disjointed tableaux and knee plays that is Einstein, and its meditative nature bears little resemblance to the romanticized, dramatic conflict between G-d and Ruler that is Akhnaten.

Rather, it is about the essence of the man who, failing to find an English word that characterized his philosophy, decided on the combination of Satya [truth] and Agraha [pursuit of] because he believed that life itself should be a pursuit of truth …..




  1. Opera League member Jay Galbraith generously shared his accumulation of Philip Glass-related discs with us.
  2. Several videos produced by Swami Tadatmananda of New Jersey’s Arsha Bodha Center were liberally drawn upon.
  3. Photo images were excerpted from the Met’s HD telecast.
  4. The title was whimsically inspired by Tom Wolfe’s narrative of modern architecture.
Author: Thomas Lady

Categories: Bob Bernard's CornerNumber of views: 1855