Theatre in Wales

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MUSIC THEATRE WALES’ RED LETTER DAY: Thursday, April 2 is a red letter day for enterprising contemporary opera company Music Theatre Wales. On that day two of its most successful recent productions - Philip Glass’s ‘Kafka’ opera, The Trial and Mark-Anthony Turnage’s modern classic, Greek – open simultaneously on different sides of the globe.

The Trial, which Philip Glass wrote expressly for Music Theatre Wales in 2014, receives its German Premiere at Theater Magdeburg as Der Prozess, while MTW’s award-winning 2011 production of Greek - Turnage’s brilliant, provocative retelling of the Oedipus story – gets its Asian Premiere at the 2015 Tongyeong International Music Festival in South Korea.

Just how MTW’s Joint Artistic Directors – Director of Productions Michael McCarthy and Music Director Michael Rafferty – carved up responsibility for realising productions taking place 5,000 miles apart proved challenging to say the least.

The solution? Michael McCarthy will revive his production of The Trial for Theater Magdeburg, with admired baritone Johnny Herford reprising the central role of Josek K alongside an otherwise largely German cast and the Theater’s orchestra under the direction of resident conductor Hermann Dukek.

Meanwhile, Michael Rafferty packs his bags (and his Korean phrase book) and heads to South Korea to initiate the orchestra of the Tongyeong International Music Festival into Mark-Anthony Turnage’s raucous, jazz-inflected musical idiom, and to conduct three performances of Greek. Michael McCarthy’s production, which won the 2011 TMA award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera, will be revived for the company by Rhian Hutchings. The opera’s restless protagonist, Eddy is sung by Edward Grint, making his debut with Music Theatre Wales, with Gwion Thomas (Dad) and Louise Winter (Mum), who sang in the original 2011 production and subsequent revival. Soprano Geraldine McGreevy makes her role and company debut as Mum.

Both productions were designed by Simon Banham, responsible for the stage design of so many of MTW’s admired productions.

Both operas will be sung in English (with, respectively, German and Korean surtitles).

The Trial, based on the novel by Franz Kafka, and with a libretto by the playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton, is a co-commission and co-production between Music Theatre Wales, The Royal Opera, Theater Magdeburg and Scottish Opera.

The Trial tells the nightmare tale of Josef K, a respectable bank employee who is suddenly arrested and forced to defend his innocence against a charge for a crime about which he knows, and is told, nothing. Based on Kafka's best known work, the opera is a prophetic vision of the excesses of modern bureaucracy, but Glass and Hampton have also found liberal doses of surreal humour in the story.

Described by the Financial Times as “unmissable” and by The Guardian as “altogether a successful, very watchable piece of music theatre”, Michael McCarthy’s production of The Trial for Music Theatre Wales won him Best Director award at the recent Wales Theatre Awards.

The opera received its World Premiere at the Linbury Studio Theatre of the Royal Opera House in October, 2014, followed by five further performances and a countrywide tour. The opera was broadcast by Radio 3 and will have a CD release on Philip Glass’s recording company, Orange Mountain Music, in due course.

Greek is Mark-Anthony Turnage’s vivid re-working of the Oedipus myth. It was with Greek, commissioned by Hans Werner Henze for the Munich Biennale in 1988 and based on a play by Steven Berkoff, that Mark-Anthony Turnage first burst on to the international scene. The young composer’s wide frame of stylistic reference – ranging from rock and jazz to high-art – and his vivid dramatic gift have made Greek into a contemporary classic.

Michael McCarthy’s production, first seen in 2011 and revived for the company’s 25th anniversary year in 2013, garnered rave reviews in the UK national press.

More about the Tongyeong International Music Festival

The Tongyeong International Music Festival was established in 2002 and now has its own resident orchestra, the Tongyeong Festival Orchestra. Based in the prosperous and vibrant coastal city of Tongyeong on the southern edge of the Korean peninsula, the festival aims at the highest musical and artistic standards, presenting world class artists, as well as fostering young composers and musicians from Asia.

Since 2014 TIMF has taken place at the magnificent new Tongyeong Concert Hall which overlooks the bay, with its dramatic backdrop of mountains to the north and its pattern of islands to the south. The new centre was built to honour the legacy of Korea’s leading contemporary composer Isang Yun (1917-1995), who was born in the city.
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