Anatomy Theater
Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

LA OPERA Off Grand (with Beth Morrison Projects) recently mounted one of its most successful productions, ANATOMY THEATER, the new chamber opera by composer David Lang (libretto by Lang and set-designer Mark Dion), with music played by the wild UP ensemble, conducted by Christopher Rountree. Two of L.A.’s most-promising singers, Peabody Southwell and Timur, headed the cast (which also included Marc Kudisch and Robert Osborne).

ANATOMY THEATER is based on historical truth. In the 18th century crowds turned out to watch the dissection of dead criminals by “leading” surgeons hoping to expose the evil that corrupted these poor souls. It was theology posing as science and sold as entertainment. The public was not just gullible but complicit in this tawdry, grisly business, cheering lustily as hearts were torn out of chests and sniffed over by medical mountebanks.

ANATOMY THEATER’s focus is on Sarah Osborne (Southwell), a street-walker who murdered her abusive husband and two children. Her story first unfolds in a gallery at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT), where a gallows has been erected. While the audience munches on wieners and beer, as it did three centuries ago, Sarah sings of her youth, of her good heart which was filled with love and beauty before life brutalized and corrupted her. Sarah’s lengthy, heart-rending aria was sung thrillingly by the mezzo Southwell.

Next the hangman/surgeon, Joshua Crouch (Kudisch), led the audience to the adjacent theater, crying out, “Come along, you sheep, you cows, come get your fill of blood and guts” (shades of reality tv). In the REDCAT theater, Sarah’s now-naked cadaver lay spread-eagled before the crowd (highlighted by Dion’s set design and Laurie Olinder’s video projections), ready to be sliced up by Crouch and his ghoulish intern (Timur). Overseeing was Baron Peel (Osborne) a pedantic and sanctimonious anatomist who babbled on about the evil that lurks in the heart of man.

Lang’s minimalist score, delivered in staccato-like bursts by wild UP, was both eery and compelling. The same could be said for Bob McGrath’s direction. Together the creative team behind ANATOMY THEATER managed to achieve something provocative and memorable.

LA Opera also recently announced its 2016/17 season. It will kick off in September with Placido Domingo and James Conlon teaming on MACBETH, which will be followed by AKHNATEN, THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO, SALOME, THE TALES OF HOFFMAN and TOSCA. The new Off Grand season will include NOSFERATU, THE SOURCE and THUMBPRINT.

(For tickets and information, call 213-972-8001 or visit