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David Lang

Publisher: G. Schirmer

anatomy theater (2006)
Text Writer
Mark Dion
Red Poppy
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1 Hour 15 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Bass
Programme Note
David Lang anatomy theater (2006)

David Lang discusses 'anatomy theater'
Cast List:
   SARAH OSBORNE (convicted murderess, later corpse): Mezzo-soprano
   JOSHUA CROUCH (caretaker of the dissection theater): Baritone
   BARON PEEL (anatomist and moral lecturer): Bass
   AMBROSE STRANG (the anatomist's young assistant): Tenor

Composer Note:
anatomy theater is about the human body — its inside, to be specific. In fact, anatomy theater questions the history of a kind of human meaning: what is the historic relationship between the spiritual and the physical interiors of a person? Before science the physical body was seen as the manifestation of the spiritual. The scientific dissection of people is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the insides of people have been examined for other purposes throughout history. For example, in certain parts of pre-modern Europe traveling specialists would tour from town to town and produce a kind of moral spectacle, in which the corpses of executed criminals would be dissected in front of a paying audience, with food and drink served and musicians playing. These were not scientific events, but spiritual carnivals, in which evidence of corruption was sought and uncovered in the interiors of the human body. These were essentially joyous affairs — a bit grisly but suffused with a bourgeois sense of complacence and order. The dissections were essentially voyeuristic — they are more about reinforcing the social differences between the audience and the criminal than they are about the pursuit of any kind of useful knowledge. They also contain the notion that the struggle between good and evil would have its results written within the human body. This is a very beautiful idea.

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anatomy theater is our own version of such a spiritual carnival. We propose to create a moral dissection, with images of bodies and environments projected on scrims, 3 singers — a lecturer, a demonstrator, and the corpse itself — 3 musicians and a text drawn from surviving documents and contemporary moral tracts.

— David Lang

  • 07 JAN 2017
    New York, NY
    International Contemporary Ensemble
    Christopher Rountree, conductor

    Other Dates:
    8,10-14 January - New York, NY
  • 17 JUN 2016
    Los Angeles, CA
    LA Opera
    staged by Ridge Theater; Bob McGrath, director; in conjunction with Beth Morrison Productions; Christopher Rountree, conductor

    Other Dates:
    18-20 June - Los Angeles, CA
  • 16 JUN 2016
    anatomy theater World Premiere
    Los Angeles, CA
    LA Opera
    staged by Ridge Theater; Bob McGrath, director; in conjunction with Beth Morrison Productions; Christopher Rountree, conductor
  • 04 MAR 2006
    workshop performance
    MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA
    Ridge Theater

anatomy theater, a commission by Ridge Theater and Beth Morrison Projects, turned out to be a powerful morality play that addressed itself to some of the abiding terrors of our own time.

Lang and his co-librettist and designer, Mark Dion, delivered a take on these unsavory events that was intensely, even flamboyantly theatrical.
Simon Williams, Opera News,01/07/2016
Lang’s masterpiece…is more than a provocative exercise in morbid voyeurism, the show is a startling and subtly profound look at the darker recesses of human nature, then and now.

Unlike several of Lang’s major works centered around empathy for the poor and victimized…anatomy theater is more visceral, portraying primal human nature with searing immediacy.
Rick Schultz, Musical America,23/06/2016
David Lang’s gruesome and fascinating anatomy theater…starts with a hanging, continues with a dissection, and makes the audience complicit in the spectacle of human suffering as entertainment. Inspired by the 18th-century practice of public dissections and the contemporaneous "scientific" belief that evil could be physically located in the body, Mr. Lang and his co-librettist, the visual artist Mark Dion, remind us how often strong convictions and practices that seem perfectly normal at the time can appear grotesque in retrospect.
Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal,20/06/2016
Lang's opera is high entertainment. No plot synopsis nor extensive pre-concert talk is needed or wanted. There is no need for projected titles.

Like a musical, words are meant to be — and they easily are — understood. The theatrical experience is direct, as it was in the early days of opera.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,19/06/2016
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