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Music Theatre Wales perform Glass’ The Trial

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Philip Glass
The Trial
Johnny Herford, Amanda Forbes, Rowan Hellier, Paul Curievici, Michael Bennett; Music Theatre Wales/Michael Rafferty
Orange Mountain Music 0118

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Prolific opera composer Philip Glass has adapted to the changing scene by latterly focusing his attention on smaller-scale works. The Trial, composed for Music Theatre Wales who present this premiere recording, features just eight singers, and an ensemble of 12 players. Glass calls this genre ‘pocket opera’, while other descriptions include chamber opera or musical theatre (as its commissioner’s namesake suggests).

Such sparse production is perhaps to be expected from a composer who is often categorised as a minimalist (to his displeasure). Glass’s microscopic motivic development creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that is ideally suited to Franz Kafka’s unsettling dystopia, accurately conveyed by Christopher Hampton’s incisive libretto. Set in 1914, Josef K (expertly sung by baritone Johnny Herford), wakes on his 30th birthday to discover he is surrounded by officials who are arresting him for an unspecified crime. Forced to defend himself against the unknown, K encounters increasingly bizarre – and unpleasant – characters, until he is resigned to accept his fate. Hampton and Glass prise out the gallows humour as Kafka intended (‘This is a democracy, it’s peacetime, we’re all subject to the rule of law’ sings Herford, with perfect irony).

The versatile cast take multiple roles: soprano Amanda Forbes convinces as love interest Leni (Forbes also sings the role of Fraülein Bürstner) while Paul Curievici provides curiosity as the painter Titorelli (Curievici is also the flogger, and a student).

Regrettably, there is some loss of detail in the recording, which captures the opera’s first performance in 2014 at the Royal Opera House’s Lindbury Theatre.

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Claire Jackson