Philip Glass' opera In the Penal Colony tours UK
Disturbing chamber opera adaptation of Kafka
In its second year of celebrating the best in contemporary music and dance as the seasons change, the Traverse Theatre welcomes a return joint visit from Music Theatre Wales and Scottish Opera to open the 2010 Autumn Festival. With a new production of Philip Glass’s disturbing chamber opera, In the Penal Colony, the autumn darkness is not that of the cosy, golden leaves type when the clocks go back, but a provocative and unsettling look at man’s inhumanity, intolerance and cruelty. Based on Franz Kafka’s short story of the same name, written in 1914, Glass’s opera is not for the faint-hearted.
There are only three characters on stage and instrumentation is for a string ensemble of just five players, but together they pack a powerful punch. The story tells of the horrific use of a complex machine that was designed not only to torture but, ultimately, to execute its victim. Actor Gerald Tyler is the Condemned Man, not that he is aware of it or of what his crime is, and whose pathway to death includes the device carving his sentence onto his skin. ‘This is Kafka,’ says Glass. ‘It’s a classic Kafka story. The strangest thing is that evidently Kafka considered these stories very funny, but, of course, we look at them as a dark, existential soul-searching kind of a thing, and they seem very modern to us.’
Musically, Glass’s setting takes the audience up close to the two key characters – the Officer, sung by Omar Ebrahim, and the Visitor, a psychological challenge for tenor Michael Bennett, who is required to witness events and the whole gruesome experience. The score is easily recognisable as Glass, with pulsating, repeated phrases and haunting, strangely beautiful melodies that are key to the piece’s intimacy and impact.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 16 Nov