Gustav Holst’s one act chamber opera Savitri is available from Against the Grain theatre (aka “AtG”) as an online film. They offer it free of charge from their website, while inviting you to make an optional contribution to the company.
For AtG, who embody the idea that small is beautiful, Savitri is ideal, employing a chamber ensemble instead of a full orchestra, with a modest length of roughly a half-hour, (plus extra content for the film), its cast of three principals with a wordless chorus.
On their website, the company says:
“Against the Grain Theatre is an award-winning Canadian opera collective that presents classical music in innovative ways and in unusual venues.”
They began with la boheme presented in a bar, later an outdoor Pelléas et Mélisande¸ and A Little Too Cozy set in a TV studio. Their adaptations are fascinating, culminating in their recent film Messiah/Complex. Savitri too is a film given that live performance is not yet permitted in the Toronto area, filmed entirely outside.
AtG say that they want to attract a diverse audience, making Savitri a perfect choice in setting an episode of the Mahabharata. I saw the work before sung by Caucasian performers but AtG give us persons of colour.
Directed by Miriam Khalil plus Associate Director Simran Claire, Savitri stars
Meher Pavri in the title role, Vartan Gabrielian as Yama, God of Death, and Andrew Haji as Satyavān, Savitri’s beloved.
This is a beautiful little film, telling a lovely story. At times I couldn’t quite discern the words when Pavri or Gabrielian were singing, but the story is easy enough to follow. If you need it, these Hyperion liner notes give you the libretto of the short work.
As with Messiah / Complex it doesn’t matter whether a singer is lip synched with the singing. If we hear the words and see the personage, we imagine that perhaps the words are in their head, perhaps just in our own head. Either way, it works quite well, especially in an opera concerned with the world of illusion or Maya. Beautiful images accompany beautiful sounds & stirring ideas.
It’s comforting to hear a wordless chorus from Holst, who would later use the same device for the planet Neptune at the conclusion of his great orchestral suite The Planets, again with metaphysical implications.
We have an elaborate credit sequence at the end that might be my favorite part of the film, reminding me of the quirky way Wes Anderson ends his films, giving us additional perspectives on the project and the participants. I don’t know about you, but I love this sort of thing.
The opera is available online until Sunday July 11th here, and I recommend it.