Timur on Ambrose Strang and anatomy theater



Kazakh-American tenor Timur has truly made an artistic mark in Los Angeles. Beyond studying at USC and CalArts (where he is now a faculty member), he has made solo appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and The Industry. He has also played throughout the city with his glam rock band Timur and the Dime Museum, including premiering a rock opera at REDCAT in 2014. His latest artistic endeavor in the City of Angels is creating the role of Ambrose Strang in David Lang’s anatomy theater. During rehearsals, we sat down with Timur to discuss anatomy theater.

 How did you get involved with anatomy theater?

Last year, I worked with Beth Morrison Projects on several different productions. Beth produced my band’s Collapse: A Post-Ecological Requiem, a piece done in the form of a Catholic mass for the dead. Beth produced it for different festivals, including at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. So, I’ve known Beth for almost three years.

She mentioned anatomy theater and when I found out it is by David Lang—a now legendary composer who is breaking waves in music theater—I just jumped at that opportunity. I am also a big fan of Beth Morrison Projects and to have a partnership element with LA Opera—it’s quite innovative. I didn’t want to miss the chance to be part of it.

A scene from a 2016 workshop of Anatomy Theater; Photo: James Daniel

A scene from a 2016 workshop of anatomy theater; Photo: James Daniel

Tell us about Ambrose Strang. What do you think motivates him?

So Strang is a young assistant to Baron Peel, who is the anatomist, and one can say, also a moral teacher. He’s a mentor to my character Strang, to some extent, and Strang is certainly his admirer and follower. Peel teaches Strang things, while he does all the cuts and the dissections. He outsources all that to my character. To me, Peel represents the current science of the period. In the middle of the opera, Strang has this epiphany that what Peel is saying is not exactly true. From that point on, Strang evolves and realizes that Peel is wrong. Then, Strang finds his own ideas about how the science can change and progress. In a sense, Strang represents the future of what’s going to happen.

The dynamic is very interesting. All the characters in the opera have something they regret, or are ashamed of for different reasons. Strang realizes that maybe we are looking in the wrong place for evil. Strang could be the future of the modern field of psychology, because he suggests that we should look in the soul of the person, which could be an interpretation that maybe there’s something about the mind that is worth exploring.

How is anatomy theater different from other productions you’ve done?

David Lang – I have never done any of his pieces. It was really fun introduction to his music. He comes from a school of post-minimalism and it is certainly interesting—and challenging—to perform the music where small shifts in rhythm happen little by little in the harmonies and textures rather than really dramatic changes like we hear in standard repertoire.

The piece is very much like a contemporary Threepenny Opera. It is a really declamatory, in your face way of approaching the subjects in the opera, and I think that is definitely different from the other work I have done. 

What do you think anatomy theater is about?

We often live in the present and when we look at things that are set in the past, we are quick to judge and say that something might be very absurd or plainly wrong. But, if we lived during that time, we might have thought differently. We are quick to come up with solutions to fix things we think are wrong, because it makes us feel safe and secure; it makes us feel like we are in control of our knowledge. But, knowledge changes with every decade. We might think something is really true at this moment, but in the next decade, we find out that we were wrong.

anatomy theater touches upon this subject. It is about progress. It’s about science. It’s about misogyny. We see men who hate women, but also see that their hatred comes from fear of women. All of this is relevant today, because we have come a long way, but not far enough. anatomy theater is a jolting depiction of that search for the answer to the question, “What if we were wrong?” It is this dark satire that says, “In the name of science, we commit hideous crimes.” But in 1750, they were not crimes. So, the piece is a very interesting social commentary.

What do you want the audience to take away from anatomy theater?

Well, I would love to them for reflect upon what they have seen and think about the different issues.  We want the audience to really contemplate the issues that were raised and think about how change comes about—whether it’s a change because of women’s rights or equality or death in the name of science. Sometimes, we do commit horrible experiments, but they might lead to some progress, or is it a true progress. It’s an opera that’s told in a very direct way and I think that it will definitely stimulate a discussion afterwards.

For more information and tickets to anatomy theater, click here.

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