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Opera Essentials: Philip Glass's The Trial

Our quick guide to this world premiere, based on Franz Kafka's novel.

By Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager)

30 September 2014 at 3.07pm | Comment on this article

The Story Begins…

Josef K. wakes on the morning of his 30th birthday to find two men have come to arrest him. They do not say for what. Over the next year he desperately tries to find out what he's been accused of, why he's been accused and if there is any way to escape his fate.

A 20th-century Classic

The Trial is one of Franz Kafka's most well-known works. He wrote the novel 1914–15 but never finished it, and it was not published until 1925, a year after his death. Like much of Kafka's work, The Trial is grimly funny in its nightmarish depiction of the futility of human existence.

Music Theatre Wales

Since its creation in 1988, Music Theatre Wales has become a pioneering force in contemporary opera in the UK, and in 2002 became the Royal Opera House's first Associate Company. The company also has a long association with composer Philip Glass, giving the first UK performance of his opera The Fall of the House of Usher in 1989 and in 2010 staging the UK premiere of his In the Penal Colony, also based on a Kafka work. The Trial is Glass's first work created specifically for Music Theatre Wales, and celebrates the company's 25th birthday.

Regular Collaborators

Glass has won acclaim for his operas (Satyagraha) and soundtracks (The Hours), while librettist Christopher Hampton is no less celebrated for his plays (Total Eclipse), adaptations (Dangerous Liaisons) and screenplays (Atonement). They first collaborated in 1996, on a film adaptation of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, written and directed by Hampton with a soundtrack by Glass. Hampton has provided the librettos for Glass's operas Appomattox (2007) and Waiting for the Barbarians (2008).

'Modern Man in a State of Paranoia'

Director Michael McCarthy has described The Trial as 'a parable for any society at any time, and indeed for any individual'. His production, with designs by Simon Banham and lighting design by Ace McCarron, places Josef K. in a space that feels like a social experiment – 'he's going to be stuck in there and we're going to watch him'. To McCarthy, Josef K. is 'a very compelling character: a study of modern man in a state of paranoia'.

The Trial runs 10–18 October 2014. Tickets are currently sold out, but returns may become available.
Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton will be revealing more about the opera at an ROH Insights event on 9 October. 
Tickets for this Insight event are still available.

The Trial is a co-commission and co-production with Music Theatre WalesTheater Magdeburg and Scottish Opera.

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