Trial by Media

Asman’s score is marvellously multifaceted. At times agitated and angry, at times wistful and light, this strange, dynamic music also grips the audience in riveting scenes when the two opposing attorneys are sparring with their words, and you feel it building and building like something out of a cinematic thriller that keeps one on the edge of your seat.

Keith Bain, Daily Maverick


(Video by Quiver Films, supplied courtesy of Cape Town Opera)


Love, and its ability both to “find” and “bind” us, is swirling and sweeping through a saccharine waltz. Two South African celebrities attempt to blend in: Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee Paralympian and Reeva Steenkamp,  FHM Supermodel and paralegal. Inevitably, they are quickly recognised and their fame turns the crowd into paparazzi which leads to a violent altercation between Oscar and Reeva.

The Trial of Oscar Pistorius ensues. As the criminal proceedings unfold, public opinion holds unprecedented power and influence over not only the defendant, but that of the entire Magistrate (Jury, Prosecutor and Defence). There are moments of perspective change that reveal the Judge’s questioning of her own judgement, Oscar’s guilt and overall sanity, as well as how arguments of litigation can quickly become emotionally contempt. Oscar is asked to remove his prosthetic limbs in an attempt to gain sympathy from the court, but vitriolic public opinion does not waver. In a moment of absolute loss, the phantasm of Reeva appears. Her immaculate, untouched presence stills the court as she vividly captions her life through her Instagram account, before she is ultimately, and fatally, halted.

Despite Oscar’s pleas, he is found guilty, but only of culpable homicide (manslaughter). Vehement public outcry leads to a second hearing, where Reeva’s WhatsApps to Oscar are revealed, containing her failed attempts to confront problems in their relationship. Oscar is ultimately found guilty of murder sentenced to just six years’ imprisonment. In his cell, Oscar is finally reunited with Reeva’s apparition, their love binding them eternally.



(Rehearsing a scene from Trial by Media, photo by Conroy Scott)

 Trial by Media is a brave and audacious piece of operatic theatre – conceptually inspired – narrative, music, libretto and staging.

– Robyn Cohen, The Cape Robyn


Sunday Times, The Oscar Pistorius saga put to music (

Cornelia Le Roux, Oscar Pistorius: Opera on full blast as ‘too toxic’ Blade Runner sweeps church floors | The Citizen

Estelle Bronkhorst, Oscar Pistorius opera | Impact of media coverage on public perception (

Robyn Y Cohen, Stunning opera showcase, SHORTS: A Festival of Pocket Operas – The Cape Robyn

Keith Bain, Trial by Media a short but full-fat opera – The Mail & Guardian (

–––, Duelling arias and piano gunfire — the shock and awe of new opera (

–––, Three bite-size operas offer spectacle of engaging variety (

(Brittany Smith as Reeva Steenkamp in ‘Trial by Media’. Photo by Kim Stevens)

Programme Note

The 2013 Valentine’s Day murder of FHM model and paralegal Reeva Steenkamp and subsequent trial of her partner, Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was the forefront of South African litigation, and served as a contemporary reminder on how justice is influenced by fame and public opinion.

In 2014, Oscar Pistorius was tried and initially found guilty of culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipa,1 with a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, concurrent with other charges. This sentence sparked an enormous public outcry, which culminated when Pistorius was briefly released on parole in October 2015 after serving one sixth of his sentence. This public outcry was measured in an online study conducted by the media monitoring group Data Driven Insight (DDI), who found that 8.43% of 6.2 million online media content declared Pistorius as guilty, compared to just 1.14% who claimed him to be innocent.2 Shortly after his release, the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned Masipa’s original conviction and found Pistorius guilty of murder. Masipa resentenced Pistorius to six years in prison, which was again further appealed by the state, and was subsequently changed this sentence to 15 years – the minimum term for murder in South Africa.3 Oscar was denied right to appeal in 2018 as well as parole in 2023, due to not serving a minimum parole-eligible term. His parole request was approved in November 2023, just days before this opera was completed. In January 2024, Pistorius was released from prison.

This opera is not, however, solely about Oscar Pistorius. Trial by Media invites its audience to experience other critical perspectives of this story, including those of the magistrate and the media. To wit, this opera also hopes to offer a sensitive and important portrayal of arguably the most crucial perspective: Reeva Steenkamp who was, naturally, the only other person present when she died. Whilst the opera follows the natural narrative of the trial, there are moments of metaphysical emotional reflection, where our characters reflect upon as well as challenge each others’ viewpoints in a manner not typically found in court, but perhaps found on online social media, where the majority of public opinion for this case formed.

Schalk Schoombie, the work’s librettist, adopted this same approach of creation by sourcing text from both published and online social media sources, including those from public Twitter and Facebook accounts. Schoombie’s resulting libretto possesses a raw, unfiltered quality that brilliantly contrasts the acute sharpness present in the original court transcripts, Schoombie’s other sources, which anchor the opera’s narrative arch.

I hope that the music of this opera captures the Nietzschean ‘Perspectivism’ present in this story whilst simultaneously highlighting the emotional height of each pillar of polar opinion, together with the ever increasing rhythmic impetus that existed during both the trial of Oscar Pistorius and murder of Reeva Steenkamp.

“There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity’ be.” (Nietzsche)


1     Culpable homicide is equivalent to Manslaughter in the UK, US and Canada.

2     ANI, ‘People, Media More Likely to Declare Pistorius “guilty” than “innocent”: Survey’, Business Standard India, 13 March 2014,

3    South African Government. Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105, § 51, A105-97 22 (1997).

Programme note written by the composer


1(p).1.(ca).1(bcl).1(cbsn) / / Timp / Perc / Pno / Hp / Str (

Reduced Orchestrations and Piano only score available

Year(s) of Composition:
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The music of composer Conrad Asman (b. 1996) has gained international recognition as being “innovative and cutting edge” (Chorosynthesis) and spans a wide emotional range from “heart-rending” (The Esoterics), to “fun and festive” (Creative Feel). His works have been performed in Africa, Asia, Europe and America in venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the Jinji Lake Concert Arena. Engagements with ensembles such as the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, the Esoterics singers, the CHROMA ensemble and the Cape Town Youth Choir have led to his work winning multiple major awards, scholarships and commissions worldwide.