14 October 2014

Philip Glass' The Trial at the Linbury Studio Theatre

Performances of Philip Glass operas are not as common as I would like so it is with hints of desperation that I go when they do appear.

The notable occasion this time was the World Premier of his latest opera, The Trial, based on the book of the same name by Franz Kafka.This was the same combination that brought me In the Penal Colony earlier in the year.

The venue this time was the Linbury Studio Theatre, that is the nice modern one hidden below the Royal Opera House. I much prefer modern theatres, Glyndebourne is another excellent example, because we know so much more about designing them now that the sound is better, the seats are more comfortable and the stage can be seen clearly.

Being at the Linbury also gave me the excuse to eat in Tuttons, just the other side of Russell Street, beforehand. Tuttons was something of a treat and I can only justify it if I am going to the opera afterwards.

The Royal Opera House is not brilliant at publicity and, despite being on their emailing list, I was a little late to find out about the show and had a limited choice when I went to book. I opted for Arena Right M-14 for £40.00. Everything about the choice was turned out just right, as the picture taken from my seat shows.

The Trial was one the many books that I probably should have read at some point but had failed to do so and my knowledge of it was very limited.

The form of the opera and the production style were similar to that of In the Penal Colony, though the story was quite different.

The story progressed through a series of short scenes on a spare stage. The music varied with each scene while the singing style was mostly recitative, that is it was sung speech. It was sung in English with unnecessary English surtitles, which I found a little distracting as I found myself reading them even though I could hear all of the words perfectly clearly.

In the story the central character was arrested for some unspecified crime and while continually protesting his innocence he fought against the legal system only to discover that it moved on whims and favours and so his efforts had little effect.

There were some nice scenes along the way and in one of the more memorable ones the man visited a famous painter who knew some of the judges to ask for his help. The painter told the man about the judges, the way that the system worked and the role that he, the painter, was forced to play in this. All the while a gaggle of female fans were trying to get in to the studio to see the painter through the various doors and windows. We also learnt that part of the court ran past the studio and that the courts were everywhere.

As story was Kafkaesque, it did not end well. It was fun watching it get there though with nice, if somewhat unremarkable, music and good singing. I also liked the simplicity of the production and the clean way that the stage did the things that it had to do.

The Trial was very much Kafka's story with Glass providing the backing music, a combination that worked well.

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