Music by Philip Glass
Libretto By Rudolph Wurlitzer based on Franz Kafka

“...It's always risky interfering in other peoples' business... I oppose this procedure, but I will not intervene." - The Penal Colony 



An explorer visits an island where blind conformity has no rational connection between crime and punishment. Kafka's ingenious metaphor about man's inhumanity to man is heightened by Glass' hypnotic score. Witness the internal conflict of the innocent bystander; to act or to do nothing.
A collaboration with CALREP Long Beach


Kafka's harrowing story "In the Penal Colony" ("In der Strafkolonie") was adapted as a play by Steven Berkoff in 1969. Glass chose to use it as the basis for an opera and selected the creative team. He and his long-time collaborator and former wife JoAnne Akalaitis worked on the idea on and off for three years before receiving a commission from ACT Theatre in Seattle. Akalaitis worked closely with the librettist, Rudy Wurlitzer, in adapting the story for the musical stage and directed the premiere production.

In Kafka's story, only two of the four characters speak, The Officer and The Visitor, whose roles in the opera are assigned to a bass-baritone and tenor respectively.  The texts for the narration were chosen by Akalaitis from Kafka's diaries. The opera's music is played by a string quintet.


In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka

"In the Penal Colony" ("In der Strafkolonie") (also translated as "In the Penal Settlement") is a short story by Franz Kafka written in German in October 1914, revised in November 1918, and first published in October 1919.

The story is set in an unnamed penal colony. As in some of Kafka's other writings, the narrator in this story seems detached from, or perhaps numbed by, events that one would normally expect to be registered with horror. "In the Penal Colony" describes the last use of an elaborate torture and execution device that carves the sentence of the condemned prisoner on his skin before letting him die, all in the course of twelve hours.


 Philip Glass - Composer

Philip Glass (born January 31, 1937) is an American composer. Glass's work has been described as minimal music, having similar qualities to other "minimalist" composers such as La Monte Young, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley.

Glass founded the Philip Glass Ensemble, with which he still performs on keyboards. He has written numerous operas and musical theatre works, eleven symphonies, eleven concertos, seven string quartets and various other chamber music, and film scores. Three of his film scores have been nominated for Academy Awards.





A high-ranking visitor arrives in the penal colony. He was invited there to witness the public execution of a prisoner by a strange machine invented by the former commandant of the colony. The machine slowly carves a description of the condemned man's crimes into his flesh and after hours of excruciating torture, kills him. The device is operated by the officer in charge of the prison who is utterly devoted to the machine and to the memory of the deceased commandant who invented it. The officer is disturbed by the machine's state of disrepair and the growing criticism of its use, including criticism from the island's current commandant. He hopes that the visitor will be impressed by the machine and will speak in favor of its "redemptive powers" to the commandant.  When the officer realizes that the visitor will not actively support him, he frees the condemned prisoner from the machine and climbs onto it himself, seeking the redemption of a slow and painful death. The machine, however, goes haywire and instead of killing him slowly, kills him almost instantly by piercing his skull. It then self-destructs. The visitor boards a boat and leaves the island.


National Endowement for the Arts    California Arts Council Arts Council for Long Beach City of Long Beach Art Works Opera America KUSC

This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. Learn more at www.arts.ca.gov
Supported in part by a grant from the Arts Council for Long Beach and the City of Long Beach.
Long Beach Opera events are supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission