In the Penal Colony by Philip Glass

In the Penal Colony

In the Penal Colony

Chamber opera by Philip Glass

“In the Penal Colony” – Preview

In the Penal Colony © Claudia Rohrmoser

In the Penal Colony © Zena van den Block

In the Penal Colony © Zena van den Block

In the Penal Colony © Zena van den Block

In the Penal Colony © GTG / Matthieu Gafsou
The basic principle I use for my decisions is this: Guilt is always beyond a doubt.

Franz Kafka
In the Penal Colony
About the work

Opera chamber by Philip Glass
Libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer based on Franz Kafka’s  short story
First performed in Seattle in 2000

In coproduction with Operaballet Vlaanderen and Operadagen Rotterdam
Performed on November 15 2018 in Ghent

6  September 2019 9om
7  September 2019 7pm
At the Salle du Lignon

In coproduction with

In co-direction with


Concept and direction Clara Pons
Scenography and video Claudia Rohrmoser
Lighting Designer Son Doan
Assistant video Cynthia-ël Hasbani

The Visitor Vincent Lesage
The Officer Ivan Thirion
The Narrator Johan Leysen

Ensemble Contrechamps

About the work

A stage/videlo installation
Based on Kafka/Glass

On stage: two characters, two different perspectives. An European visitor is invited to attend an execution; we then witness the last dialogue he has with the officer in charge of the execution. As a foreigner, the visitor dares do no more than observe attentively and without judgement. He does this carefully, believing that his gaze is powerless as he can do no more than helplessly attend someone else’s execution.
But in the end, isn’t this execution the result of his own powerlessness? Of his inability to take sides? Or is it rather the consequence of his own point of view, superior to that of the officer or any other Weltanschauung, because it is allegedly more just and more objective than any other? {spoiler alert} In the end, the officer condemns himself with the sentence: “Be just!” And we stand by, as powerless as the visitor, witnessing the drama of the officer’s execution. Are we also guilty of inaction? Should we have intervened? Or is this execution right and just?
These questions haunt this short story written by Kafka in 1914 that Glass sets to mechanical, uncluttered and cold music, occasionally interrupted by lyrical reminiscences as the officer breaks into nostalgic tirades glorifying the perfect beauty of the execution apparatus, which is in fact the main character of the piece, and the justice system, which the machine represents and embodies. Composed of two singers and five musicians, the execution machine works with us and for us, whether we like it or not and we cannot abstract ourselves from being present, here and now, in the execution room, in the Salle du Lignon or in our everyday world.


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