Get Closer: Die Laughing with The Trial

Die Laughing: Get Ready for the American Premiere of The Trial


Opera Theatre’s newest American premiere is based on Franz Kafka’s iconic novel, which is widely regarded as one of Kafka’s best works — despite the fact that he died before he could complete it. The novel was adapted for the opera by playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Atonement, Dangerous Liaisons), who says of the source material, “The Trial is one of the half-dozen or so great essential novels of the twentieth century. One of the remarkable things about it is …it has this strange sort of prophetic sense.”


In fact, The Trial and its depictions of one man’s bizarre legal complications may have been based nearly as much on experience as foreshadowing. After all, Kafka was himself trained as a lawyer and was later hired to work for an accident insurance company. This mix of reality and surrealism is what defines The Trial, and is famously preserved in legendary actor/director Orson Welles’s 1962 film adaptation.


The idea of an operatic Trial began several years ago with American composer Philip Glass, who is internationally acclaimed as perhaps the most important composer of our time. His best-known works range from the operas Satyagraha, Einstein on the Beach, and Galileo Galilei to the Golden Globe award-winning film score for The Truman Show. Mr. Glass grew up surrounded by music; his father owned a radio repair shop and would regularly bring records home for his children to listen to.


Philip Glass had wanted to adapt The Trial for several years before a company finally commissioned him to write it. For Mr. Glass, the underlying comedy in Kafka’s bizarre tale was one of the main draws: “If you’re not laughing at the end of Act I, you’re not in good shape.” And in fact, he already had a taste for setting Kafka to music, having adapted In the Penal Colony in 2000.


Language is crucial to The Trial, as it sets the entire tone for the story, and so Mr. Glass turned to Christopher Hampton for the libretto in what would become their third artistic collaboration. Mr. Hampton was the perfect person to preserve the “comedy-horror” of Kafka’s writing.


The Trial received its world premiere in 2014 at London’s Royal Opera House, staged by director Michael McCarthy. It is this same production that will travel to Opera Theatre next June, so audiences can share in the experience of witnessing this fun and provocative new opera.


“★★★★★ This opera could easily have promised more than it delivered. Instead it exceeded expectations. The verdict? Unmissable.”
The Financial Times (London)