Talk about pressure.
Matthew Lau, an assistant professor of music at Simpson, landed one of the eight coveted roles in The Trial by Philip Glass.
“Philip Glass is 80 years old and one of the most famous living composers of our time,” said Tim McMillin, department chair of Music.
Lau, a bass vocalist, is performing the role of “Inspector/Uncle Albert” in the American premiere of The Trial with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
“Opera Theatre of St. Louis is a major company, and this is a big deal,” McMillin said.
But there’s more.
Glass attended the opening night performance on June 2.
“It adds a huge amount of pressure,” Lau said. “Every interpretation of a modern work requires that each performer works with the material and then adds something of his own to create something unique and stageworthy.”
What did Glass think of how the performers interpreted his adaptation of Franz Kafka’s work?
“He was very complimentary,” Lau said.
So were the reviewers. The critic for KDHX radio wrote, “Matthew Lau brings real power to his portrayals of Uncle Albert and the Inspector.”
The good news is, Lau did not break a leg during opening night.
The bad news is, he broke his left arm nine days later.
“On the way to a cast party, I slipped and fell on a wet spot on a grassy hill,” he said. “The entire company saw it and were all laughing hysterically, but it was a significant break.”
The costume department outfitted him in a period-worthy sling, and Lau has not missed a single performance. Call it playing with pain.
“I like the show very much, and like the character that I’m playing, and my voice is fine, so no problem,” he said.
In The Trial, Kafka tells the story of a man who is falsely imprisoned, has no chance of escaping and eventually accepts his fate.
“I thought we were part of a very sad, tragic story that was going to the downer production of the season,” Lau said. “Much to everyone’s surprise, it’s the comedy hit of the season.”
The performers researched Kafka, discovered that he was a big fan of Buster Keaton and vaudeville performers, and then added humorous theatrical touches.
“Phillip Glass loved what we did,” he said.
Lau said performing informs and enhances his teaching. But he only takes roles during Simpson breaks so he doesn’t miss any class time.
His colleagues recognized his dedication earlier this year. The Trio — Student Support Services named Lau “Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year.”
TRIO – Student Support Services is a federally funded program that serves students who are traditionally under-represented in higher education (first-generation college students, low-income students and students with disabilities).
“Matthew Lau’s ability to continue his professional, national performing career paired with his astonishing commitment to teaching at Simpson is nothing short of amazing,” McMillin said. “Students who study with him (whether in the classroom or private voice studio) benefit from his continued engagement in the ‘business,’ and he personally benefits by continuing to connect with his craft as a musician. This is important work, and he does it with outstanding skill.”
Students appreciate Lau’s work as well. Several planned to travel to St. Louis June 21 to see Lau perform The Trial.
They might want to skip the break-a-leg jokes.
“I’ve heard many, many,” Lau says, laughing. “My colleagues want me to get a hand puppet that looks like a little black cat so I can appear to be holding it the entire show.”
Before coming to Simpson, Lau served as a principal artist with opera companies in Atlanta, New York, Sarasota, Fla., Chicago and Seattle. He has an extensive performing and recording career. More about his performing career can be found at: www.matthewlau.com
Here are links to three YouTube clips related to the production:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUE7SxmkOtY – The “trailer.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGuc4KFe59Q – Director’s preview about The Trial.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIPYJyay–Q – Audience response to the premiere.