"Covid-19 has sparked a resurgent interest in [Semmelweis'] work — he was even the subject of a recent Google Doodle — but in 'Semmelweis,' New York-based composer Raymond J. Lustig tells his story as a musical 'death dream' of sorts, with compelling beauty and eerie prescience." - Washington Post
An online stream of the world premiere production of SEMMELWEIS, a music-theater work inspired by one of medicine’s most tragic heroes, Hungarian doctor Ignác Semmelweis, launched on Saturday, May 2, 2020 at 1PM ET, at www.Doctor-Semmelweis.com, and will be available for one month. SEMMELWEIS was created by American composer Raymond J. Lustig, Irish-American writer Matthew Doherty, and Hungarian director Martin Boross. The world premiere performance in 2018 was co-produced by Budapest Operetta Theatre and Bartók Plusz Opera Festival. It will be free to watch, but viewers may make donations via the website to support organizations currently working to understand and combat the global coronavirus pandemic, and to alleviate its toll, especially on the most vulnerable populations: UNICEF USA, Alight, and the Semmelweis Foundation.
Seen and Heard International highlights the production's "scintillating, mystical score with evocative imagery" and further praises Lustig's style as, "modern, often minimalist: repetitive organ chords create an air of weight and solemnity in the opening scenes, while fleeting, klezmer-like passages added zest to the dreamlike score." Lustig recently wrote an essay for New Music Box, "Pandemic, Blind Spots, and the Story of Ignaz Semmelweis," reflecting on his work in the context of today's crisis.
Lustig was featured in interviews about Semmelweis with Connecticut Public Radio, which aired on Morning Edition; WWFM's On a Positive Note; and KMFA's Staccato."
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.
Google, which paid tribute to Semmelweis in its March 20, 2020 Google Doodle, reported, “Today, Semmelweis is widely remembered as ‘the father of infection control,’ credited with revolutionizing not just obstetrics, but the medical field itself, informing generations beyond his own that handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of diseases.” In response to the Doodle, the Wall Street Journal deemed Semmelweis “The Unsung Pioneer of Handwashing,” with CNN, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and Radiolab telling the doctor’s story as well in March 2020.
Lustig says, “There has never been a more urgent moment in history to reflect on the mystery of insight, the tension between truth and hubris, our deadly myopic inertia, and the clear truth that we as a society need our full human participation, our fresh perspectives and brave new ideas, literally to survive. My hope is that, by giving vocal expression to the Semmelweis story – not just that of the man himself, but also of the women and mothers from whom he is inseparable – we may all be inspired by his refusal to remain silent on a truth that was not merely inconvenient, but intolerable.”
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.