Savitri (opera)

Savitri (opera)

"Sāvitri" is a chamber opera in one act by Gustav Holst, his Opus 25, with the libretto by Holst himself. The story is based on the episode of Savitri and Satyavan from the "Mahābhārata", which was also included in "Specimens of Old Indian Poetry" (Ralph Griffiths) and "Idylls from the Sanskrit". [Head, Raymond, "Holst and India (III)" (September 1988). "Tempo" (New Ser.), 166: pp. 35-40] The opera features three solo singers, a wordless female chorus, and a chamber orchestra of 12 musicians. Holst had made at least six earlier attempts at composing opera before arriving at "Sāvitri".

Performance history

The opera was first given in an amateur performance at Wellington Hall, London on 5 December, 1916. Holst had intended the word to be performed "in the open air, or else in a small building". [Ottaway, Hugh, "Holst as an Opera Composer" (June 1974). "The Musical Times", 115 (1576): pp. 473-474.]

Critical appreciation

Holst's friend and fellow composer Ralph Vaughan Williams noted Holst's use of modal style in the opera. [Ralph Vaughan Williams, "Gustav Holst (Continued)". "Music & Letters", 1(4), pp. 305-317 (1920).] John Warrack has commented on Holst's use of bitonality at the opening of the opera, representing the distinct yet subtly connected realms of Sāvitri and Death. [Warrack , John, "Holst and the Linear Principle" (September 1974). "The Musical Times", 115 (1579): pp. 732-735.] Donald Mitchell, in his highly critical comments on the opera, noted the influence of Richard Wagner in the vocal style [Donald Mitchell, "London Concerts and Opera". "Musical Times", 97(1365), pp. 596-597 (1956).] , even as Holst had nominally renounced the epic scale of Wagner's operas in terms of size of musical forces. [Colin Matthews, liner notes to Hyperion Recording of "Sāvitri", CDH55042 (2000 reissue).] Byron Adams has described the opera's characters as more "archetypes" than people. [Byron Adams, Review of "Gustav Holst: The Man and His Music" by Michael Short. "The Musical Quarterly", 76(4), pp. 584-591 (1992).] By contrast, Andrew Clements has written highly of how well the opera combines 'Eastern' culture into a 'Western' music format. [ [,,1220605,00.html Andrew Clements, "Sāvitri" (review of 2004 Birmingham performance). "The Guardian", 20 May 2004.] ]


*Satyavān tenor
*Sāvitri soprano
*Death bass


Sāvitri, wife of the woodman Satyavān, hears the voice of Death calling to her. He has come to claim her husband. Satyavān arrives to find his wife in distress, but assures Sāvitri that her fears are but Māyā (illusion) [Trend, J.B., "Savitri, an Opera from the Sanskrit" (October 1921). "Music & Letters", 2 (4): pp. 345-350.] : "All is unreal, all is Māyā." Even so, at the arrival of Death, all strength leaves him and he falls to the ground. Sāvitri, now alone and desolate, welcomes Death. The latter, moved to compassion by her greeting, offers her a boon of anything but the return of Satyavān. Sāvitri asks for life in all its fullness. After Death grants her request, she informs him that life is impossible without Satyavān. Death, defeated, leaves her. Satyavān awakens. Even "Death is Māyā".

elected recordings

* Decca: Dame Janet Baker, Robert Tear, Thomas Hemsley; Purcell Singers; English Chamber Orchestra; Imogen Holst, conductor
* Hyperion CDH55042 (Helios reissue): Felicity Palmer, Philip Langridge, Stephen Varcoe; The Richard Hickox Singers; City of London Sinfonia; Richard Hickox, conductor (1983)
* Phoenix PHCD 14: Jessica Miller, Simon O’Neill, Kyu Won Han; Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater; Manhattan Chamber Sinfonia; Glen Barton Cortese, conductor


External links

* [ Chester Novello page on "Savitri"]

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