The opera takes place in a single day, from dawn until nightfall. Unlike a traditional narrative, however, the story unfolds seemingly out of time, with a structural framework in which past, present, and future converge. Although rooted in real-life events from Gandhi’s time in South Africa, the story exists as in a dream, with the composer’s self-described “music with repetitive structures” moving the action forward, sometimes gently and sometimes urgently. “It’s a meditative piece,” associate director/set designer Julian Crouch says. “In the process, your heartbeat slows down.”
This sense of timelessness is partly due to the presence of three on-stage “witnesses” (in Philip Glass’s words) who each preside over an act. To place these three great men on the stage with Gandhi further moves history into the realm of poetry.
Top: Representing the past is Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, with whom Gandhi corresponded until Tolstoy’s death in 1910. Costume sketch (left) by designer Kevin Pollard; collage rendering (right) by Julian Crouch.
Center: Rabindranath Tagore, the revered Bengali playwright and poet, represents Gandhi’s present. Tagore was the first to call Gandhi “Mahatma,” meaning “great soul,” a title Gandhi himself never recognized. Costume sketch (right) by designer Kevin Pollard; production photo (left).
Bottom: Representing Gandhi’s future is Martin Luther King, Jr., who would later take up Gandhi’s techniques in his struggle for civil rights. Costume sketch (left) by designer Kevin Pollard; production photo (right).