That's a blatant lie, but below is an article from the New York Times about the opera, and a discussion of the construction and design of the puppets. I think I'm posting this here for my own sake, and I may take this down in the future. If I think to do it.
Opera About a Giant's Life, Complete With Giant Puppets
by: Daniel J. Wakin, published 4/11/08
AS the orchestra emitted repeated Glassian ripples, huge puppets — some more than 20 feet tall — staggered onto the Metropolitan Opera stage during a rehearsal last week.
The grotesque, hulking creatures lurched through an ominous cityscape, their heads bobbing like doddering old men. They resembled the figures of the German Expressionist artists Otto Dix and George Grosz come to life.
While lasting only a few minutes, the scene stands as perhaps the most striking moment in the Met’s production of “Satyagraha,” Philip Glass’s 1979 opera about Mohandas K. Gandhi’s years in South Africa. It sharply illustrates the central design idea behind this production: how the elaborate use of simple materials can create a musical-theatrical world. Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the artistic directors of the Improbable theater company in London, are the director and the designer of the opera, which has its Met debut on Friday and runs through May 1. The tottering puppets are created from newspaper, fiberglass kite poles, light cotton cloth and lots of latex glue. The sets are made largely of corrugated metal. Wicker baskets and brooms become a crocodile. Chairs held over faces become symbolic barriers.
“We decided we wanted to use very humble materials in the making of the opera,” Mr. Crouch said. “We wanted similarly to take these materials, maybe associated with poverty, and see if we could do a kind of alchemy with that, turn them into something beautiful.”
The dominant medium is newsprint. Coated newspapers paper the stage floor. Balled-up pages represent stones thrown at Gandhi. Text is projected on newspaper sheets held up by actors. News pages are manipulated into a Hindu goddess. Long strips of attached pages ribbon across the stage, representing a printing press. (Maybe the newspaper industry doesn’t have to die after all.) “It’s an ordinary object that, when transformed, becomes magical,” Mr. McDermott said. “Ordinary simple actions, when done with commitment, become something powerful,” he said, a quality of Gandhi’s idea of “satyagraha,” a Sanskrit term that can be translated as “truth-force” and stands for Gandhi’s principle of nonviolent resistance.
More literally the newspaper reflects Indian Opinion, the paper that Gandhi founded as a vital part of the struggle for the rights of Indians taken to South Africa as indentured servants by the British. The focus is on the period from 1893 to 1914, the years Gandhi spent in South Africa. Tolstoy, the poet Tagore and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. each figures in an act representing witnesses from Gandhi’s past, present and future.
“Satyagraha” is the middle work in Mr. Glass’s trilogy of operatic portraits, sandwiched between “Einstein on the Beach” and “Akhnaten.” The libretto is drawn from the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred Hindu text, and bears little direct relation to the action, which plays out in a series of tableaus that crisscross time. There are no subtitles, only projections of sentences from the text and references to scenes and dates.
The tenor Richard Croft, who shaved his head and lost 10 pounds for the role, plays Gandhi; other cast members include Rachelle Durkin, Earle Patriarco and Alfred Walker. Dante Anzolini, the Italian-Argentine conductor, is making his Met debut.
“It’s the story of the seed of what we know about the big story of Gandhi,” Mr. McDermott said. “It’s also the story of the idea of that movement having repercussions throughout history.”
The staging was designed to match the idea of people working together, “like satyagraha,” he said. “So a lot of the images are created by ensembles of people.”
Mr. McDermott called the scenes meditations on key moments in Gandhi’s South African story. The trancelike music, he said, demands a different sort of attention of audiences. “By the third act some people just love it, or others say, ‘I can’t bear it.’ ”
“Satyagraha” is a co-production with the English National Opera, where it played last year and received strong praise from the London critics. With little opera experience, Mr. McDermott and Mr. Crouch “created a masterwork of theatrical intensity and integrity,” the reviewer for The Times of London wrote.
The two men lead Improbable, which brought the sinister, sometimes bizarre theater piece “Shockheaded Peter” to New York in 2002 and 2005.
The pairing of Improbable and Mr. Glass came about at the suggestion of Sean Doran during his short tenure as general manager of the English National Opera; who knew their work from his time as director of the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia, where the company produced a show in 2002.For “Satyagraha,” the directors convened an ad-hoc group of aerialists, puppeteers, actors and one errant academic who wandered by one day to do research and was absorbed into the company. The group, called the Skills Ensemble, operate the puppets and provide much of the activity onstage during the meditative lines of Mr. Glass’s score.
The word puppet does little justice to the fearsome large human figures and ragged, yet delicate newspaper creatures in “Satyagraha.” They are part of an increasing puppet presence in contemporary opera productions.
At the Met the trend is represented most notably by the weirdly lifelike bunraku puppet that played Cio-Cio San’s child in “Madama Butterfly,” the heavily promoted new production by Anthony Minghella that opened the company’s 2006-7 season. Julie Taymor’s “Magic Flute,” introduced in 2004, also made wide use of puppetry. Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” at the Houston Grand Opera last season had a 12-foot high Witch in the production by Basil Twist.
The giant-puppet scene in “Satyagraha” takes place early in Act II. The figures represent the vulgar forces of urban society — corrupt politicians, rapacious businessmen — who are bewildered and angered by Gandhi’s denunciations of injustice to European newspapers, the directors said.
“Gandhi’s ideas are bigger than life,” said Mr. Glass, who watched the recent rehearsal intently from the audience, occasionally glancing at the score. “These huge figures reflect that.” He said the puppeteers improvise their movements onstage. “The puppets are created while we watch. There is a spontaneity and creativity while we are watching it.”
The heads were made mainly by Mr. Crouch. He created frames from fiberglass kite rods connected by tape and covered them with a light cotton cloth called stockinette. Newspaper was pasted on top. He said the German Expressionist look was inspired by the period in which the action was taking place, and by the presence of Europeans in South Africa. “It felt like the right kind of world,” Mr. Crouch said.
It took months to make the puppets despite their brief stage appearance. During the rehearsal last week, the time came for the big puppet entrance, which Charlotte Mooney, a trained aerialist who wears stilts to bear a giant bird onstage, wryly called “the suicidal leap into the gloom.”
In the wings Alexander Harvey strapped on stilts. Mr. Harvey, 28, has a fine arts degree from the University of Leicester. He learned juggling and unicycling as a hobby and studied at a circus school in Bristol.
He staggered over to his puppet, nicknamed “Elvis” for the creature’s wide lapels, and stepped between the opening of its giant newspaper coat. He slipped on a backpack frame attached to the puppet and put a stick that controls the head into a pouch dangling from a tool belt around his waist. The pouch held the head’s weight while he turned it back and forth.
He stepped forward, pulling the puppet off a metal-tube frame. Stagehands stood nearby, guiding him with verbal cues.
As the other puppets began moving toward the stage, Mr. Harvey stilted up a ramp to the stage, stepped over a lip, turned sideways and then had to keep his balance on the stage’s downward slope, mindful of the danger that a head sloping too far forward could send him crashing down. Skills players said there had been no such mishap.
In a few minutes a stage manager said, “Here they come,” and the creatures began stumbling back.
“Can’t be easy,” a stagehand said to Rob Thirtle, a stilt-walking puppeteer. Mr. Thirtle sat down heavily on a platform and pulled off his stilts. “Scary,” he said.