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anatomy theater

World Premiere


Based on actual 18th-century texts, anatomy theater follows the astonishing progression of an English murderess: from confession to execution and, ultimately, public dissection before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers. Through the miracle of opera, she sings through it all.

anatomy theater conjures a time when “specialists” traveled from town to town in pre-modern Europe, conducting public dissections of the corpses of executed criminals, seeking evidence of moral corruption in the interior of the human body. Written by Pulitzer Prize–winning and Oscar-nominated composer David Lang and world-renowned visual artist Mark Dion, anatomy theater is a tuneful and grisly theatrical event.

Click here to read the program.
Click here to read the murderess's confession. 

LA Opera's presentation of anatomy theater is made possible by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts and from donors to LA Opera's Contemporary Opera Initiative.

A Ridge Theater Production. Developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects. Development support provided by BRIC and MassMoCA.

Commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, Justus and Helen Schlichting, Linda and Stuart Nelson, Paul King, and Marla and Chris Ahearn. Additional commissioning support provided by BRIC, Nancy and Barry Sanders, and Miles Benickes. anatomy theater is funded, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts – Art Works, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding was provided by the Multi-Arts Production Fund (MAP), the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts and New Music USA.

Limited seats released 2 hours prior to performance. Call Box Office at 213.972.8001 to inquire.


There are currently no upcoming performances.

 Performances of anatomy theater will take place at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. 
631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Parental Advisory: This production features nudity, violence, mature themes and adult language. Not recommend for children.


Creative Team

* LA Opera debut artist


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 medicine offered a better understanding of the physical body, the corpus was seen as the manifestation of the spiritual. In 18th-century England, traveling specialists would tour from town to town producing a ʺmoral spectacle," in which the bodies of executed criminals would be dissected in front of a paying audience, with food and drink served and musicians playing. As portrayed in paintings and lithographs of Hogarth, these were essentially joyous affairs, the macabre overtones suffused with a bourgeois sense of complacence and order. The dissections were voyeuristic, reinforcing the social differences between the audience and the criminal. They also contained the notion that the struggle between good and evil would have its results written within the human body itself.

anatomy theater is a contemporary reflection on this historical spiritual carnival. It is a moral dissection, with images of bodies and environments projected on scrims, four singers—a lecturer, a demonstrator, the caretaker of the anatomy hall, and the corpse itself—nine musicians and a text drawn from surviving documents and period moral tracts.

The murderess confesses to her crimes, she is hanged and then dissected publicly. The four characters are the murderess Sarah Osborne, whose execution doesn’t seem to get in the way of her singing; Joshua Crouch, the caretaker of the dissection theater; Baron Peel, the anatomist; and Ambrose Strang, the anatomist’s assistant.


Approximately 75 minutes; there is no intermission.

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