by Philip Glass with a libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer
based on the story by Franz Kafka

New production in collaboration with the Day and Nights Festival


OP continues its ongoing relationship with composer Philip Glass and takes it on the road to collaborate with Glass’ Days and Nights Festival with a new production of In the Penal Colony. Based on a story by Franz Kafka, the opera is set at the turn of the 20th century on a remote island, where a high-ranking visitor arrives to witness the use of a strange machine in the execution of a prisoner. The story and opera are a parable for the consequences of the abuse of power and corruption.


Golden Bough Playhouse, Carmel, CA

Friday, October 5, 7:00 pm
Sunday, October 7, 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm



Conductor: Nicole Paiement

Creative/Stage Director: Brian Staufenbiel

Lighting Designer: Kevin Landesman

Costume Design: Daniel Harvey


A high-ranking visitor arrives in the penal colony. He was invited there to witness the public execution of a prisoner using 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. He 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. The visitor is appalled by the machine but sings “It’s always risky interfering in other peoples’ business […] I oppose this procedure, but I will not intervene.”[3] 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.



Philip Glass (b. 1937) has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his time through his operas, symphonies, and wide-ranging collaborations. Glass’s operas play throughout the world’s leading houses. He has also written music for experimental theater and film.

Glass was born in 1937 and grew up in Baltimore. He studied at the University of Chicago and the Juilliard School. Finding himself dissatisfied with much of what then passed for modern music, he moved to Europe, where he studied with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger and worked closely with the sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar.

After returning to New York, Glass formed the Philip Glass Ensemble, which features instruments amplified and fed through a mixer. The new musical style that Glass was evolving was dubbed “minimalism”; Glass preferred to be known as a composer of ‘music with repetitive structures’. In 2015, Glass published his memoir, Words Without Music, and premiered his Double Concerto for Two Pianos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.



Wurlitzer was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but the family moved to New York City shortly after his birth. He is a descendant of Rudolph Wurlitzer (1831–1914), founder of the jukebox company of the same name, but the family fortune had long since been diminished by the time Wurlitzer came of age in the 1950s. When he was 17, he found work on an oil tanker and it was on this first trip he began to write. He spent time at Columbia University and in the Army and continued to travel, spending time in Paris, and on Majorca where he worked as a secretary for author Robert Graves. He credits Graves with teaching him how to “write short sentences.” He returned to New York City in the mid-1960s where he met and befriended the artists Claes Oldenburg, Robert Frank, and Philip Glass, all of whom he collaborated with. He is married to photographer Lynn Davis and splits his time between homes in upstate New York and Nova Scotia.