glass notes
Glass: In the Penal Colony

Nothing says Christmas like a tale of torture by Kafka and the music of Philip Glass. 

On December 19th Orange Mountain Music is releasing "In the Penal Colony," an opera by Philip Glass performed by the Music Theatre Wales. B0067OOY6E

Philip Glass' one act chamber opera, In the Penal Colony, was composed and premiered in 2000 by A Contemporary Theater in Seattle. The libretto is by Rudolph Wurlitzer from the story by Franz Kafka.

A condemned man is about to be executed. The Officer describes the execution machine to the Visitor, detailing its conception, its construction, and finally its method. The method of execution is the most horrific and inhumane imaginable. The Officer's zealous dedication to this method is based on his belief that the machine has the power to bring about a moment of transfiguration in the victim, the moment they understand the crime they have committed.  When the Officer realizes that his beliefs will no longer be accepted, there is only one course left. The real horror of the machine is now revealed.

Scored for string quintet and two singers, this is the world premiere recording by the Music Theatre Wales under the direction of Michael Rafferty, with tenor Michael Bennett as the Visitor and baritone Omar Ebrahim as the Officer. This studio recording was made at the Angel Recording Studios in November 2010

5 thoughts on “Glass: In the Penal Colony”

  1. Great! I saw it in Lyon and it was fantastic, I can’t wait. Glass’ “dark” output is the one I enjoy the most (Dracula, Waiting for the babarians, Symphony 8)

  2. This is off-topic but I think the readers here (and, Richard, too might enjoy it). Here’s what Stephen Sonheim had to say about the use of sanscrit in “Satyagraha” in a recent article:
    “Sanskrit – the best language for a libretto
    When I first heard that the libretto of Philip Glass’s 1979 opera Satyagraha was written in Sanskrit (by him and Constance de Jong), I giggled inwardly at what I deemed its pretentiousness and, delightedly reverting to my snotty adolescence, made many a witty remark at its expense. Then I saw it. Not only was I mesmerised for most of it, I was brought up short by the realisation that Sanskrit was the best possible language for an opera libretto.
    It has the two necessary qualities: it utilises predominantly open vowel sounds (listen to the title), and it doesn’t invite you to try to understand the language, which is something you automatically do at the opera if you know a smattering of German or Italian or French. With Sanskrit, you are relieved of every bit of concentration except where it counts: on the music and the singing – and, if you’re interested in the story, on the surtitles. Even librettos in English need surtitles, since distended vowels, vocal counterpoint and the over-trained diction of many performers make it difficult to understand. Every librettist should have a smattering of Sanskrit. It will save them, and their audiences, a huge amount of work.”
    Source (and it pains me to link to Guardian but oh well):

  3. I had an Indian friend once who explained to me that the difficulty most English speakers have with learning Indian languages is that they place an emphasis on certain syllables of each word, whereas Indian words should be spoken with an equal emphasis on each syllable. I was reminded of Glass’ explanation of his discovery of the rhythmic structures of Indian music; when he finally understood what Ravi Shankar meant by “all the beats are equal”.
    It would be interesting to hear the opinion (the ‘Indian Opinion’?), of someone who speaks Sanskrit, on it’s use in the opera however.

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