Review – The Trial – Phillip Glass and Music Theatre Wales at Royal Opera House

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I’m not a big opera fan, but I do really enjoy the music of Phillip Glass. So when I heard that his new opera … based on Franz Kafka’s classic novellette The Trial … was going to be at the small space at the Royal Opera House … well, it was a match made in heaven.

I wasn’t the only one to think that a dystopic cult novel and the American master of minimalism were the hottest opera ticket this fall … the production was sold out two months before it opened (and with stalls seats going for the fantastic price of £45, I say rightly so!). Fortunately it’s touring through November 10th so there are other chances to see it … Manchester, Cardiff, and Oxford being just a few of the venues that will host it. Now, the devoted will know that with the Royal Opera House, there are almost always a few returns on the day, so if you’re reading this in hope of getting a ticket to the London production, keep that browser open – it refreshes regularly and suddenly “SOLD OUT” becomes “BUY” … and there I was with two seats in row H in the stalls. Awesome!

So now that I’ve been, the question is: was it worth the bother? Did it meet the hype? Was it any good? I’m pleased to say, yes! (But I must caveat that this production hovered at the two hour mark …a fact which raised its value in my eyes.) Everything was stylized, with a stripped down set (iron frame bed, chairs, and table; eggshell walls broken only by seams of light and window-sized gaps), a monotone palette (that extended to the women’s hair), and a movement style that called to mind silent movies. A sense of claustrophobia was enhanced by the performers staying on the set or peeking in the windows when they weren’t part of a scene; you could never forget that Josef K was constantly being watched. And Glass’ music built like a storm surge, the pressure rising relentlessly as the trap slowly closed around our incredulous mouse. Innocence or guilt were not in question: there was simply no way to escape the conclusion of this bureaucratic machine.

Johnny Hereford was a wonderful Josef K; initially arrogant and unbelieving, at times passionate, finally resigned. All of the other performers were at least double cast and disguised well enough to move the story along despite it occasionally being clear we were watching the same person. But the narrative ruled the day, helped greatly by being performed in English. I was pulled in, and without a language barrier between myself and the sung word, the story became my world. It’s the best time I’ve had at the opera in years and I hope the rest of the performances meet with as much success as this run, in the deliciously intimate Linbury.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 15, 2014. It continues at the Linbury until October 18th, then goes on tour.)

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