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

3rd January 2018 in Press

Philip Glass
Libretto, Philip Glass and Constance DeJong (based on the ancient Hindu text Bhagavad Gita)

Conductor, Karen Kamensek
Director, Phelim McDermott

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.

Multiple Olivier Award and Tony Award-winning Lighting Designer Paule Constable has worked on some of the biggest productions of the past decade, including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and War Horse. Olivier Award-winning Costume Designer Kevin Pollard frequently collaborates with Phelim McDermot and Julian Crouch, and recently designed the costumes for ENO’s Aida.

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.

British soprano Anna-Clare Monk returns to ENO, having previously sung Cynthia in Two Boys and Suzanne in Doctor Ox’s Experiment. She sings Mrs Naidoo for the first time.

Also taking on a new role is British soprano and first-class honours graduate of the Guildhall School of Music Charlotte Beament. A Garsington Alvarez Young Artist and a ‘Rising Star of the Enlightenment’ for the OAE, recent performances include Lucia in The Rape of Lucretia (Glyndebourne) and Belinda in Dido and Aeneas (Brighton Festival).

Canadian mezzo-soprano Stephanie Marshall reprises her role as Kasturbai. Another ENO favourite, her previous roles at The London Coliseum include Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, The Handmaid in The Handmaid’s Tale and Sonya in War and Peace.

British baritone Nicholas Folwell has sung countless roles at ENO, including Papageno in The Magic Flute, Mutius in Timon of Athens and Bosun in Billy Budd. He performs Mr
Kallenbach for the first time.

British bass Clive Bayley is reunited with Phelim McDermott and Karen Kamensek, having sung Aye in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten with ENO in 2016. He sings Parsi Rustomji for the first

British mezzo soprano Sarah Pring – who has performed in Lucia de Lammermoor and Jenufa at ENO, as well as at the Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera and Welsh National
Opera – reprises the role of Mrs Alexander.

ENO Harewood Artist bass-baritone Andri Björn Róbertsson studied at the Reykjavík Academy of Singing and Vocal Arts in his native Iceland, Royal Academy of Music and the National Opera Studio. He takes up the role of Lord Krishna for the first time, having recently sung Ceprano in Rigoletto and Angelotti in Tosca at ENO.

Completing the cast is British baritone Eddie Wade, – who performed with ENO in Caligula in 2012 – reprising his role as Prince Arjuna.

The Olivier and International Opera Award-winning ENO Chorus also takes a central role as the mass force for change under Gandhi’s inspired leadership. Integrated with the ENO Chorus are 12 members of a skills ensemble including aerialists, puppeteers, acrobats and regular performers with Improbable.

Conductor Karen Kamensek makes a welcome return to ENO. Kamensek made her English National Opera debut in March 2016 conducting Akhnaten. She has frequently
collaborated with Philip Glass – widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of the late 20th century – and conducted the recording of the composer’s Les Enfants
Terribles, which was released on the Orange Mountain Music label in 2005. She has conducted orchestras and opera productions around the globe, with many of today’s leading artists and ensembles. In August 2017 she made her BBC Proms debut in the Royal Albert Hall, leading the Britten Sinfonia and master sitar player, Anoushka Shankar, in the first live performance of Philip Glass’ and Ravi Shankar’s collaboration, Passages.

Satyagraha opens at the London Coliseum on Thursday 1 February for 7 performances – 1,
7, 14, 16, 22, 27 February at 7pm, 10 February at 6pm.

Running time: 3 hours 15 minutes (with 2 intervals)

Pre-performance talk, Wednesday 7 February, 5.45-6.30pm, £5/£2.50 concs.
500 tickets are available for every performance at £20 or less

A collaboration with Improbable
A co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
New production supported by a syndicate of donors


Notes to Editors:

English National Opera is founded on the belief that opera of the highest quality should be
accessible to everyone. We are a national company of international standard. We forge
ground-breaking collaborations across art forms, and our world-class productions inspire,
surprise, and captivate. We sing in English. We believe that singing in our own language connects the performers and the audience to the drama onstage, and enhances the experience for all. We bring our productions to the widest possible audience, whether at the London Coliseum, nationally or internationally. We make our work accessible by offering a large proportion of tickets at affordable prices, and by distributing it widely on screen and via digital media. We nurture talent across the entire company, whether on-stage, backstage, or in the pit. We provide a platform for young singers to develop global careers. We tell the world’s most timeless stories, unforgettably.

Improbable is led by Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson. The company’s work occupies a vital space in the landscape of UK theatre. At the heart of our artistic practice is improvisation. Not all of our shows are improvised live every night, but each will use improvisational techniques in the process of creation. As a deeply democratic artform, we see improvisation in all its forms as a tool for social change and our mission is to create a cultural shift that sees creativity placed at the heart of everyday life. Our recent projects include Lost Without Words, an improvised piece with actors in their 70s and 80s at the National Theatre; Opening Skinner’s Box, a show exploring ten (in)famous psychological experiments at the Lincoln Center Festival New York and on UK tour; and Permission Improbable, an ongoing project to explore a female-led culture of improvisation. Improbable’s recent collaborations with ENO include acclaimed productions of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha and Akhnaten (winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Opera), both directed by Phelim McDermott. Improbable is a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England.


M. K. Gandhi – Toby Spence
Miss Schlesen – Charlotte Beament
Mrs Naidoo – Anna-Clare Monk
Katsurbai – Stephanie Marshall
Mr Kallenbach – Nicholas Folwell
Parsi Rustomji – Clive Bayley
Mrs Alexander – Sarah Pring
Prince Arjuna – Eddie Wade
Lord Krishna – Andri Björn Róbertsson

Conductor – Karen Kamensek