Music: Philip Glass Libretto: Rudolph Wurlitzer based on original story by Franz Kafka

A chamber opera in one act and 16 scenes composed by Philip Glass to an English-language libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer. The opera is based on Franz Kafka's German-language short story In the Penal Colony. 


UK Premiere: Wednesday 15 September 2010 – Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House


  • Visitor Michael Bennett
  • Officer Omar Ebrahim
  • Condemned Man Gerald Tyler


  • Conductor Michael Rafferty
  • Director Michael McCarthy
  • Designer Simon Banham
  • Lighting Designer Ace McCarron
  • Sound Designers Sound Intermedia


“A string quintet, two singers, one actor plus a wooden table to suggest an apparatus for torture: you can shape an opera out of anything. These were the sparse elements, tightly brought together, in Philip Glass's one-act In the Penal Colony. Music Theatre Wales, the indispensable, pint-size company which specialises in contemporary chamber opera, gave the UK premiere at the Royal Opera's Linbury studio before a nine-venue UK tour…. In 80 minutes of growing tension, to a sensuous, lyrical score which relates closely to Glass's string quartet repertoire, the complexities unfold. The atmosphere is airless and forensic. There are many ambiguities and no simple explanation…. Simply staged by Michael McCarthy, lit by Ace McCarron and conducted by Michael Rafferty, the performance was focused and taut. …The Music Theatre Wales Ensemble shone in this challenging, finger-exhausting, concentration-sapping score. Catch it on tour.”

The Observer on In the Penal Colony September 2010

“Philip Glass’s 10-year-old chamber opera, which received its UK premiere on Wednesday in a production by Music Theatre Wales, starts off with one clear advantage. It compels our assent to its basic (and only) premise – that abuse of human rights ultimately scars its perpetrators as much as its victims and no bystander can escape moral responsibility. By appealing so blatantly to the western liberal conscience, In the Penal Colony cannot fail. It is short (80 minutes without interval) and economical – just two singers, one silent actor and five instrumentalists. Michael McCarthy’s staging made perfect sense with only a table, chair and ladder. Music Theatre Wales tackled it with characteristic verve.”

Financial Times