The Trial, based on the novel by Franz Kafka, and with a libretto by the playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton, will receive its World Premiere at the Linbury Theatre of the Royal Opera House on October 10, 2014, followed by a further five London performances and a national tour of Wales and England in October and November.
First published in 1925 Kafka’s The Trial tells the nightmare tale of Josef K, a respectable bank employee who is suddenly arrested and forced to defend his innocence against a charge for a crime about which he knows, and is told, nothing. It is probably Kafka’s best known work – a prophetic vision of the excesses of modern bureaucracy.
The Trial is a co-commission and co-production with the Royal Opera House, Theater Magdeburg, Germany and Scottish Opera. It has a cast of eight singers and is written for an ensemble of 12 players. The opera will be directed by Michael McCarthy, with design is by Simon Banham and lighting by Ace McCarron. Michael Rafferty directs the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble.
The cast is led by much-garlanded young baritone Johnny Herford as the opera’s protagonist, Josef K, and soprano Amanda Forbes as Fraülein Bürstner – greatly admired for her performance as The Duchess in MTW’s production of Sciarrino’s The Killing Flower in 2013. Other roles are played by Rowan Hellier (mezzo), Paul Curievici (tenor), Michael Bennett (tenor), Gwion Thomas (baritone), Nicholas Folwell (bass-baritone) and Michael Druiett (bass).
The new Philip Glass opera is a further milestone for the innovative Welsh contemporary opera company which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013. Music Theatre Wales has commissioned operas from leading names such as Michael Berkeley and Ian McEwan – their collaboration on For You created worldwide interest – as well as discovering new compositional talent. The company has also been responsible for landmark productions of classic contemporary operas by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and two leading voices of European new music, Salvatore Sciarrino and Philippe Boesmans.
Music Theatre Wales’s relationship with the music of Philip Glass goes back to 1989, when the company gave the European Premiere of The Fall of the House of Usher, also revived in 1990 and 1993.
The success of that production led to Music Theatre Wales’s decision to stage the UK Premiere of another of Glass’s so-called ‘pocket’ operas, In the Penal Colony, which it also recorded for the composer’s own music label, Orange Mountain Music. Michael McCarthy’s “taut, angry production” (Anna Picard, Independent on Sunday) was widely praised, as was the brilliant playing of the string quintet drawn from the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble under Music Director Michael Rafferty.
Philip Glass found the experience of working with Music Theatre Wales so obviously rewarding that he offered to write another ‘Kafka’ opera for the company for 2013 – this time based on The Trial. As in In the Penal Colony, it will be intimate in scale and dark and claustrophobic in atmosphere.
“I’ve enjoyed working with Music Theatre Wales. They are wonderful to work with and they seem to like these ‘odd’ pieces of mine, and they do them very well,” said Philip Glass in a recent BBC Radio 3 interview, adding: “I think of my pocket operas as neutron bombs – small, but packing a terrific punch”.
Philip Glass remains one of the most popular and distinctive of all living composers. Through his operas, his symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his wide-ranging collaborations, he has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his times – indeed, Glass is the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film and in popular music simultaneously.
Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton have worked together before: Glass wrote the score for 1996 film adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, written and directed by Hampton whilst Hampton wrote librettos for Glass’s 2005 opera Waiting for the Barbarians (2005), based on the novel by J M Coetzee and for Appomattox, set against the backdrop of the American Civil War (2007).”