In The Penal Colony


Conducted by Nicholas Fox
Directed by Jerry Mouawad

A piercing and profound view of justice and change.

A visitor is invited to a penal colony to observe the execution of a condemned man at the hands of a nightmarish machine. The colony’s officer extols the virtues of the apparatus, which tortures as it kills, in this piece that the New York Times calls a “Surreal Exploration of Injustice.” As the future of the institution is questioned, the visitor considers the consequences of meddling, and the officer grows more desperate to preserve the system.

About our production:

Sung in English with English captions. 
Approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.
Performed in The Gregory K. and Mary Chomenko Hinckley Studio Theatre
at the Hampton Opera Center, 211 SE Caruthers St.  

Featuring a string quintet, this new production is directed and devised by Jerry Mouawad of Imago Theatre, who directed Portland Opera’s 2017 production of The Difficulty of Crossing a Field and The Little Match Girl Passion. Tenor Martin Bakari and baritone Ryan Thorn both return to Portland Opera as the Visitor and Officer.

Audience Warning: This production includes a strobe effect and a special effect simulating blood.


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Pre-Show Lecture

Join us in the Music Studio for a 30-minute lecture with guest speaker Hannah Penn, one hour prior to the performance.

Post-Show Conversation

Join us in the Music Studio following the performance for a post-show conversation with company members and guests from the production.

Tickets are $75.

*Please note that senior rush tickets are not available for this production.  


The performance of In the Penal Colony on July 28, 2019 at 2 PM will include an audio description of the visual and physical events on stage for patrons who are blind or have low vision. For patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing, each performance is visually translated with English text projected above the stage. If you require wheelchair, ADA, or companion seating, please let our Patron Services team know when you purchase tickets, so that we can ensure your visit to the opera is an excellent one.

Photos by Cory Weaver.


The Visitor
Martin Bakari

The Officer
Ryan Thorn

Nicholas Fox

Director & Set Designer
Jerry Mouawad

Costume Designer
Christine A. Richardson

Sound Designer
Kyle Delamarter

Lighting Designer
Carl Faber

Plot & Program Notes

In the Penal Colony is based on Franz Kafka’s short story by the same name. Libretist Rudy Wurlitzer adapted the piece for opera, and ACT Theatre in Seattle commissioned the work, which premiered in 2000.  Kafka’s short story has been adapted in numerous ways, including plays and short films.


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.

Courtesy of Long Beach Opera