Michael Rafferty / Music Theatre Wales

Philip Glass: The Trial

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The Trial (2014) is not the first Philip Glass opera created in collaboration with Music Theatre Wales, and not even the first one based on Kafka: the forces here earlier performed his opera In the Penal Colony. The Trial, however, stands out from most of Glass' previous operatic efforts. It is the first Philip Glass opera to receive its premiere in the U.K., and this recording is taken from the 2014 premiere, recorded by the BBC at the Linbury Theatre at London's Royal Opera House. The sound is nonpareil, and conductor Michael Rafferty demands absolute clarity of enunciation from his fine cast of singers: a libretto is provided (drawing liberally from Kafka) in the CD version but is hardly needed. The vocal lines straightforwardly declaim Kafka's famous story of a middle-class man plunged into a surreal legal nightmare, but the action is in the accompanying ensemble, splendidly realized by the instrumentalists of Music Theatre Wales. The music dramatically serves the story -- as it has in only the best of Glass' operas -- as he moves from relatively static minimalist tableaux at the beginning to an extremely artfully constructed Glass version of the jazzy 1920s Neue Sachlichkeit when the situation of the protagonist, Josef K, deepens. For an idea, sample the clarinet-dominated instrumental interlude at the beginning of the second disc and then continue into the following vocal segments. This is the world premiere performance of this opera, and even though it has been done full justice here, it will not be the last performance. Highly recommended.

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