If Grant Had Been Singing at Appomattox

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

WHOEVER said that history doesn’t repeat itself never reckoned with Philip Glass. No, it is not a matter of musical repetitiveness, though there is plenty of that. In this case the motivation for a new Glass opera echoes that of a much older one, and both works loom large in the new season.

“Appomattox,” based on the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at the end of the Civil War, will have its premiere at the San Francisco Opera on Oct. 5. And in April the Metropolitan Opera will mount a new production of “Satyagraha,” a 1980 work inspired by Mohandas K. Gandhi’s early years as a lawyer and equal-rights advocate in South Africa.

Despite the nearly 30 years that separate the creation of these pieces, their connections run deeper than the coincidence that the roles of Lee in “Appomattox” and Gandhi in “Satyagraha” are being sung by brothers: the baritone Dwayne Croft and the tenor Richard Croft. The historical settings are not so far apart. Most of “Appomattox” takes place in April 1865. Gandhi was born in 1869, and “Satyagraha” refers to events that happened from 1896 to 1913.

Mr. Glass, who turned 70 in January, deals with issues of racial intolerance and civil justice in both operas, however different the contexts. In “Appomattox” Lee, Grant and Abraham Lincoln defy popular will to end a war that has cost more than 600,000 lives. “Satyagraha” evokes the birth of Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent civil disobedience as a means to achieve political ends. The repercussions of both events are still felt today. And both, Mr. Glass suggests, were failed revolutions.

comments powered by Disqus