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The Turing Project

In honor of the Turing Centennial, American Lyric Theater is very excited to commission an operatic exploration of the life and death of Alan Turing from composer Justine F. Chen and librettist David Simpatico.

An iconoclastic thinker and social misfit born to the Edwardian upper class in 1912, Turing was a simple man of extraordinary abilities. His achievements include creating the first universal computer; breaking the Nazi U-Boat code, which proved crucial to the success of the allied forces in WWII; and creating the field of Artificial Intelligence and the future of digital, binary reality. Yet, despite the many benefits Turing’s ideas bestowed upon humanity, the British government charged him with Gross Indecency for the crime of being homosexual, and punished him with chemical castration. A year after his sentence was carried out, Turing committed suicide at the age of 41, eating an apple laced with cyanide - according to the official coroner’s report. Many speculate that his apparent suicide was inspired by his life-long love of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But others don’t think his death was suicide at all.

“The opera imagines the man inside the legend, the unique perspective he had on the universe, the public and unashamed view he had of his own homosexuality, and the impact he had upon the future of civilization,” explain David and Justine. “Vital to this examination are the roles and various meanings of ‘intelligence’, ‘memory’ and ‘passing’. For now, we’re calling it THE TURING PROJECT, as there are many titles floating in the air.

The retention of stored, reusable memory proved crucial to the development of the computer, and is similarly crucial to the telling of Turing’s story; memory collides with time and creates a canvas that flows back and forth in time and reality. By looking at specific memories of his life, we understand this iconoclastic genius as someone trapped within a system that fosters heroes only to decimate them if they go out of step with the view of ‘normal’ society.

“Music, which has privileged access to our motor system, has the power to conjure up and inflate memories, to bend time, and to retell decades in a moment as we touch upon the milestones of his life. We are examining scenes musically from the full range of his life, from the intimacy of personal, private moments, to the heroic contributions played out against a global stage of war and impending doom, as well as moments of mythic genius that unlocked essential secrets of the universe and the future of technology.

“This piece is relevant today not only for filling in the missing gaps of a public memory that has been purposefully wiped clean, but also because the same institutionalized homophobic attitudes faced by Turing continue to threaten the lives and freedom of gay men and women across the globe today. We live in Turing’s world, but still face the same prejudice that brought him down. This is an opera about the power of love, and the potential within us all to live truly and fully as we are.”

American Lyric Theater is honored to commission this new opera from David and Justine – to share Turing’s story with a generation who should know more about this incredible man, and to always remind us that many people still cannot be who they are without facing incredible persecution.

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