Glass's operatic 'The Trial' brings Kafka up to date

Sun Oct 12, 2014 7:20pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - American minimalist composer Philip Glass's new opera "The Trial", based on the Franz Kafka novel, begins with a waltz that is really the start of a "dance of death" for the main character, Josef K.

The latest of the prolific Glass's "pocket operas" for small ensembles had its premiere on Saturday night at the intimate Linbury Studio Theatre in the basement of London's Royal Opera House in a production by Music Theatre Wales.

The production features eight versatile singers, who with the exception of K, sung by the excellent British baritone Johnny Herford who is on stage almost all the time, play a variety of roles. The band consists of 12 instrumentalists.

The same group had a success several years ago with a previous Glass adaptation of Kafka's "In the Penal Colony", so neither the composer nor the troupe are newcomers to the dark works of the Czech master of paranoia.

The program notes point out that when Kafka gave his first reading of the book a century ago, those who heard him were "all helpless with laughter".

The Keystone Cops-like demeanor of the two official-looking black-coated intruders, Franz and Willem, who begin the opera by telling banker Josef K. in his bedroom that he is under arrest - and then eat his breakfast - did get a guffaw or two.

So does the bawdy behavior of various women who, in the world Kafka describes, find accused men to be irresistible.

Kafka's work - written before "extraordinary rendition", detentions without trial for prisoners at Guantanamo and a host of modern security powers - provides a chilling new context for Glass's opera.   Continued...