Phillip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread

God bless student rush tickets. Granted, I'm not a student, but Seattle theatre by and large works with this expanded definition of "student" that includes the under-25 set. Got in to see Phillip Glass's new opera, In the Penal Colony for ten bucks today. It was, uh, ah, interesting. Glass plus Kafka is one of those combinations you just have to see, and then you can spend the rest of your life figuring out whether you liked it or not. It does sound like something of a setup for a joke -- if there were such a thing as an ideal subject for a Glass opera, surely In the Penal Colony is it: a story about an excruciating punishment that involves the repetition of a short phrase over and over for twelve hours.

The music was recognizably Glass, start to finish. I wasn't as keen on the operatic lines as on the string textures that made him famous, but they were pretty good. The quintet definitely sounded great, and a couple of the "arias" were quality stuff. A lot of the standing around and making strange hand gestures was kind of unnecessary, but now and then it really worked. The machine never really seemed appropriately terrifying, perhaps because the shadow-based lighting was a bit cheesy, and perhaps because it relied on the singers shaking themselves to simulate the motion of the machine. Also, the continual discussions of the "new commander" and the "old commander" kept on reminding me of that line from the Who: "meet the new boss \ same as the old boss."