Review: ‘The Shell Trial’ Seeks a Guilty Party in Climate Change

The climate activist was tired. Protests at the house of Shell’s chief executive had led to little more than free cookies and the police being called to break things up. The same thing had happened the week before. And the week before that. And the week before that.

“I don’t wanna be perfect,” they screamed into a loudspeaker in Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins’s “The Shell Trial.” “I just don’t wanna die,” the activist added, with an expletive for emphasis.

It was a moment of one person speaking for many, and for “The Shell Trial” itself, which premiered at the Dutch National Opera on Saturday. (Among the commissioners is Opera Philadelphia, where it will travel in a future season.) 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. Remarkable, too, is the effort of the Dutch National Opera, which has taken a major step toward operating as a carbon-neutral house with this staging and its Green Deal, an initiative to weave sustainability into its productions, limit travel and calculate ways to offset its carbon footprint.

Opera in the past century has become globalized in a way that, unsurprisingly, has made it a target of activists. The Dutch National Opera, like the creators of “The Shell Trial,” views climate change as an ethical issue as well as a political one. And as the company does its part to help, the wider industry should take note.

The chorus of children was made up of performers from local schools and community programs.Credit…Marco Borggreve/Dutch National Opera

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