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In 2000, when I was quite a bit younger, I had a wonderful opportunity to perform and tour as the violist in the World Premier Production of Philip Glass's opera, 'In the Penal Colony' based on the short story by Franz Kafka. Philip Glass often called it a 'pocket opera' - in reference to the intimate scale of the company - two singers and three actors accompanied by a single string quintet. I was very lucky to have been involved, the original violist in the group was unable to join the production, and I'm sure I was not the first choice as his replacement. As I said I was relatively young and blissfully unaware at the caliber of the forces putting the thing together. But I happily signed on and worked as hard as I could to earn my place.    

The original run was slated for about 3 months at ACT theatre in Seattle followed by about 3 months at the Court theatre in Chicago. The small footprint of the show was purposeful, we were playing 8 shows a week in 100-200 seat theaters, meaning within six months we had performed the opera close to 80 times. A large scale, brand new opera at an Opera House would be lucky to see 80 performances in a decade. As the Chicago run was nearing its end, there was talk of going to New York, but they weren't taking the quintet or the actors, just the production and the singers. Several months later, I was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call saying that the quintet originally brought in for New York was not working out and asking if we would be interested to play for the 3 month run at the Classic Stage Company, a wonderful Off-Broadway theatre. Of course I said yes so in the summer of 2001, I was living and working in New York.

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I've saved most of the programs and articles but unfortunately I don't have too many pictures. I'll post what I can once I've scanned some things in. It is hard to remember, but in 2001 there was no iPhone, so I don't have the overabundance of pictures and videos I've got from the Cirque du Soleil show.

The production of 'In the Penal Colony' I was a part of (ours, again, was the original Premier Production, there have been several newer productions that didn't retain all the elements of our show) was directed by Joanne Akalaitis, with libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer and of course music by Philip Glass. One of my favorite elements was that the musicians were in costume and were on stage performing during the entire show. The costumes were designed by Susan Hilferty, lighting by Jennifer Tipton and the set was created by John Conklin.  I'll try to get a better picture but this gives you a little impression of not only the costumes but the imposing "Machine" which is the subject of the entire story.

 

 The Penal Colony Band and Conductor. 

The Penal Colony Band and Conductor. 

From the picture above you can not only see our costumes, but the "Machine" which was the focus of the story. Alan Johnson, far left, was the conductor, and was just off stage conducting the quintet and the singers via a closed circuit camera fed to video monitors hidden from the audience but placed throughout the set so we could see him. He was dressed in pit black. Director Joanne Akalaitis's vision for the quintet was that we were a mix of military and civilian citizens who lived in the village that held the Penal Colony. From left to right pictured above: conductor Alan Johnson, first violin Tom Dziekonski, double bass Todd Gowers, cello Virginia Dziekonski, viola Michael Lieberman (me), and second violin Carlos Flores.  You can't see it in this picture, but we performed on a platform just to the left of the "Machine".

 Tenor John Duykers as the Visitor, Bass Herbert Perry as the Commander, Actor Jose Gonzales as Franz Kafka

Tenor John Duykers as the Visitor, Bass Herbert Perry as the Commander, Actor Jose Gonzales as Franz Kafka

The part of the Visitor was played by Tenor John Duykers. The Commander's part was played on alternative performances by twin Bass-Baritones Herbert Perry and Eugene Perry. The part of Franz Kafka was played by Jose Gonzales. I was lucky to be able to work with Jose again in 'Tempo of Recollection'.