Ellen Reid’s The Shell Trial Premieres at Dutch National Opera

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Renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid (Music MFA 11) recently unveiled her latest opera, The Shell Trial, written with librettist Roxie Perkins, on March 16 at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam. Sung in English, the opera delves into the complexities of climate devastation and the landmark 2021 court case that saw environmentalists triumph against Shell Oil. The world premiere’s timeliness is underscored by Shell’s impending appeal, which goes to trial on April 2.

Based on the play De zaak Shell by Rebekka de Wit and Anoek Nuyens, which draws inspiration from the real-life legal battle against Shell, the opera presents a multifaceted exploration of climate responsibility. It challenges audiences to confront the blurred lines between guilt and innocence, past actions and future consequences, and individual versus collective responsibility.

More about The Shell Trial from The New York Times:

A Brechtian cri de coeur about climate change and complicity, this is an ambitious, passionate show that seems more interested in being heard — in truly reaching its audience — than in being an impeccably crafted work of art. Finding new ways to make old points, and powerfully laying out a vision for a future in which the world changes but we do not, The Shell Trial has much to admire.

An important achievement of the production was its commitment to sustainability, and reducing its environmental impact. The Shell Trial is one of the first operas developed according to Dutch National Opera’s Green Deal guideline. Notably, the total environmental footprint of The Shell Trial was three times lower than previous productions. Embracing circularity, 82% of materials used in the production were reused, with costumes sourced from existing stock and props acquired secondhand. Dutch National Opera also partnered with the charity organization Trees for All to offset the environmental impact of unavoidable CO2 emissions.

The Shell Trial is co-produced by Het Geluid (Maastricht), Opera Philadelphia, and Bregenz Festival, and will go on tour in future seasons.

CalArts Wild Beast | Image by California Institute of the Arts
PUBLISHED BY Elizabeth McRae

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