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Stephen Sondheim on Satyagraha December 8, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words.

"When I first heard that the libretto of Philip Glass’s 1979
opera Satyagraha was written in Sanskrit (by him and Constance
de Jong), I giggled inwardly at what I deemed its
pretentiousness and, delightedly reverting to my snotty
adolescence, made many a witty remark at its expense. Then I saw
it. Not only was I mesmerised for most of it, I was brought up
short by the realisation that Sanskrit was the best possible
language for an opera libretto.
"It has the two necessary qualities: it utilises predominantly
open vowel sounds (listen to the title), and it doesn’t invite
you to try to understand the language, which is something you
automatically do at the opera if you know a smattering of German
or Italian or French. With Sanskrit, you are relieved of every
bit of concentration except where it counts: on the music and
the singing and, if you’re interested in the story, on the
surtitles. Even librettos in English need surtitles, since
distended vowels, vocal counterpoint and the over-trained
diction of many performers make it difficult to
understand. Every librettist should have a smattering of
Sanskrit. It will save them, and their audiences, a huge amount
of work."

From The List Which Cannot Be Named


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