Modernity conceived prison as a primary vehicle for the humanization of criminal punishment. Contrarily to this theoretical and normative model, the practice of imprisonment has conserved several elements of the physical and psychological affliction typical of pre-modern forms of criminal retribution. Prison actually embodies a major theme of dystopian fiction because of the useless suffering it somehow implies. Nonetheless, the concrete dystopian experience of incarceration has frequently been challenged by the utopian horizons of opera, which Charles Fourier once conceived as a passionate pivot for social change. From Fidelio to The Shawshank Redemption, opera has represented a utopian wonder of voices that soar “higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream.” Surrounded by the walls of prison, opera is not merely a snobbish artistry: it may constitute a real pre-text for the rights and dignity even infamous men and women deserve.

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