Opera review: The Trial

Philip Glass is 80 this week. His music, that hypnotic interweaving of repeated intervals and arpeggios punctuated by sudden gear changes, is an institution. His opera on Kafka's disturbing novel The Trial, to a succinct and telling libretto by Christopher Hampton, first heard in London in 2014 and now revived for Glasgow and Edinburgh audiences by Scottish Opera, bears those signature hallmarks, but with an apparent softening of his usual minimalist dogma.

The Trial PIC: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL
The Trial PIC: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL

Scottish Opera: The Trial ****

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Or is it that the pit ensemble performance in this co-production with Music Theatre Wales and Theater Magdeburg was simply too accommodating under Derek Clark’s baton? It had colourful moments, but the end impression on Thursday was of music that trundled along, largely uneventfully, only to end like the flick of a switch. Full compensation comes by way of Michael McCarthy’s no-nonsense production, set within innocuous walls and populated by a provocative cast of physical and mental oddities, who relate this mysterious tale with menacing power.

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    Joseph K is “on trial” for something he is unaware of, his inquisitors an unknown quantity from an anonymous hierarchy. It all seems hideously realistic in the context of today’s Trump-fed climate of “fake news” and “alternative facts”. “So lies are the universal system”, proclaims a powerful Nicholas Lester in the lead role as he accepts the inevitable.

    Strong, intense stage performances all round from a cast that combines towering experience with Scottish Opera impressive emerging artists. And how wonderful, too, to be able to hear every single word, clear as a bell.