Das Fieberspital (The Fever Hospital) has been received by many as a foreboding, a presaging of the horrific industrialization of maimed and traumatized soldiers returning from the First World War, warehoused, like broken robots. The patients of the hospital in Das Fieberspital are in the end stages of Yellow fever, and like all patients considered to have contagious diseases, they are considered lepers, punished by God.
With industrialization comes the organization of all things into sets and subsets. Das Fieberspital gives a well- detailed example of this paradigm.
Patients are given numbers and there is little care except for the changing of their bedding. The room is white, the patients are dressed in white, the beds are white–an image of disinfection. In jarring comparison, the patients have red lines down their faces, their skin is mottled, there is liquid pouring from nasal cavity and mouth; their fevers make them delirious. They howl in terror, they hear the knock upon the hospital door of the men who come to toss the dead into bags and dump them into a boat for delivery to a place unknown.
They sit shivering, waiting for death, watching giant spiders directly above them hang their webbing down from their stomachs to those of the patients, as if marking “deceased” upon them. In the meantime, a priest comes around to the most severely ill, trying to convince each to accept the sacrament, before he will give the Last Rites. As the Last Rites demands a confession of guilt in exchange for an escape from Hell, the patient is expected to admit his complicity with his own disease.
But one patient refuses to eat the sacrament, the host, which delirium has cast into one of the large cartilaginous arachnids from the ceiling. Instead, as the priest kneels before him, holding the hideous thing, the resistant patient impales him with a sharpened stone he had been saving.
It should be mentioned: although empathy and the ability to form analogy, along with musicality and talent, are the primary requirements for the writing of such a poem, Heym’s father worked as an assistant in a Yellow fever clinic, and the son saw what transpired there. His father also was handed the worst job in the city, that of witness to the execution of those considered to be criminals. After years of this job, he suffered several breakdowns and hospitalizations. Heym, who died at 24, and who wrote this poem at 23, would have been quite young in his experience of all the above.
Das Fieberspital is composed by Diamanda Galás for live voice, multitracked voice (electronically modified and unmodified), live piano, multitracked piano (electronically modified and unmodified), and the voice of Robert Knoke in a brief “intermezzo” section.
In the selection of a poem, Galas chooses one which opens her eyes to a new world. The poem must be incantatory, almost liturgical in cadence.
The concert will consist first of a performance of Das Fieberspital, after which poems by Galás related to Fieberspital, and selected songs will be performed.