Tune Into Two Live Q&As for SEMMELWEIS with Composer Raymond J. Lustig and More
Composer Raymond J. Lustig, in collaboration with co-creators and partner organizations, announces two opportunities to go behind the scenes of SEMMELWEIS, a music-theater work inspired by one of medicine's most tragic heroes, Hungarian doctor Ignác Semmelweis. SEMMELWEIS was created by American composer Raymond J. Lustig, Irish-American writer Matthew Doherty, and Hungarian director Martin Boross. The online stream of the full world premiere performance in 2018 - co-produced by Budapest Operetta Theatre and Bartók Plusz Opera Festival - is available until May 31 at www.Doctor-Semmelweis.com.
On Thursday, May 14, 2020 at 1pm ET, Matt Gray, General Director of The American Opera Project, will join Lustig for a live stream conversation. Lustig and Gray will talk about the history of Semmelweis, lessons for our time, and the development of the project. Several early workshops, directed by Gray, were staged with AOP's generous support. Viewers are encouraged to ask questions in the comments. The livestream will be available at the page below, which you can follow to be notified when the broadcast goes live:
AOP Facebook page - facebook.com/aopopera
AOP YouTube channel - youtube.com/user/AmericanOperaProject
Raymond Lustig Facebook page - facebook.com/raymondlustig
On Saturday, May 16, 2020 at 2pm ET, the Hungarian Cultural Centers of London and New York will host a Facebook Watch Party of the complete online stream. Lustig will be joined by librettist Matthew Doherty and director Martin Boross to comment about the different scenes and answer questions from viewers throughout the work. The livestream will be available at the page below, which you can follow to be notified when the broadcast goes live:
Hungarian Cultural Center, New York Facebook page - facebook.com/HCCNY
Hungarian Cultural Centre, London Facebook page - facebook.com/hcclondon
The obstetrician Ignác Semmelweis - who championed the practice of handwashing in the 19th century that is the foundation of today's antiseptic procedures - has had a resurgence of interest during the current coronavirus outbreak. Semmelweis was an "outsider," a "foreign" doctor, Hungarian, but living and working in Vienna's top hospital in a xenophobic era. Amidst a devastating epidemic in 1846, Dr. Semmelweis discovered that the deadly disease was being spread to healthy mothers by the unclean hands of their own doctors. Tragically, the medical community rebelled against Semmelweis' discovery. They scoffed at his findings, rejected his theory, stripped him of his credentials, and the doctor was subsequently driven into an insane asylum where he died alone. It was not until decades later that his discovery was validated and accepted.
The entire action of SEMMELWEIS may be seen as if a reflection - a fever dream or death dream - of Ignác Semmelweis' inner psyche at his life's end. Dr. Semmelweis re-experiences events from throughout his life, perhaps out of sequence, distorted, or unreliable, as if through a lens of a mind in turmoil.
New York City-based composer Raymond Lustig has a background in science, and is a published researcher in molecular biology, with previous posts at Massachusetts General Hospital and Columbia University. Lustig's wife, Dr. Ana Berlin, is a surgeon and palliative care specialist on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Lustig says, "During the years we were working on SEMMELWEIS, I'd come to think of the Ignaz Semmelweis story as an allegory for climate change. This recent turn of events brings it full circle in a way that further highlights the universality of the story. It ends up being a story of course about our incredible human capacity for denial, about our most stubborn blind spots. What urgent truth is out there right now, looming, just out of our capacity to accept it?"
SEMMELWEIS asks what it is like to be the first to see into a terrible blind spot, to perceive a truth too awful to believe, to disrupt a powerfully held world-view, to experience a world dismissive of and even hostile to your idea, and to fear that the answer may die with you. What is it like to have the earth-shattering insight of a cure, and yet be haunted by the countless mothers that would never be saved?
The production, featuring a cast of all women with the exception of Dr. Semmelweis, shines light on the role of women - from patients, to sex workers, to midwives, to Dr. Semmelweis' own wife, Mária - and illuminates the cost to their bodies, lives, and families when powerful men prioritize the preservation of their own power over their duty to truth. SEMMELWEIS explores what happens to a man whose conscience will not let him participate in a deadly and sexist status quo.
SEMMELWEIS's story is symbol-driven and tightly integrated with movement, staging, lighting, projection, and voiceover to convey the essential narrative outline. SEMMELWEIS blends elements of song cycle, choral opera, pure-tone sacred vocal singing style, and pop and musical theater influences. The work is scored for women's vocal ensemble, baritone soloist, and seven instrumentalists. Specially designed music boxes and tuned bells are played onstage by all soloists and chorus, and four dancers, choreographed by Anna Biczók, are interwoven with the singing cast.
SEMMELWEIS owes its inception to The American Opera Project's Composers and the Voice residency. Several early workshops, directed by Matt Gray, were staged with AOP's generous support at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, HERE Arts in New York City, the New York Academy of Medicine, and South Oxford Space, Brooklyn, and selected for a special AOP workshop with eminent director Jonathan Miller. The National Arts Club (NYC) also presented a concert performance of the full music of SEMMELWEIS on Sept 11, 2017, conducted by Ryan McAdams, with executive producer Edward Andrews. Additional support comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Ensemble Studio Theater, Musiktheater Wien, and Dr. Warren Widmann.