SEVEN YEARS AGO, I had the good fortune to attend the American Repertory Theater’s production of Matthew Aucoin’s newly completed opera Crossing at the Schubert Theater in Boston. Afterwards in my journal, I noted: “Exciting to be there at the premiere of a gorgeous new opera by a Wunderkind who surely will be going places in the next few years.”
The Wunderkind, then a mere 25 years old—he was born in 1990, in the Boston area—has indeed gone places. The next year, Aucoin was appointed Artist-in-Residence at Los Angeles Opera, and in 2018 he won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship. To date, he has written three operas, several orchestral works, and almost two dozen chamber music pieces. In addition to being a splendid composer, Aucoin turns out to be a superb writer as well. Recently issued by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, The Impossible Art: Adventures in Opera, is an extended essay on the outlandish absurdity—but also the “inextinguishable life force”—of this 400-year-old art form.
In the face of the “impossibility” of opera, which he calls “this perpetual sense that the real thing is just out of reach,” Aucoin sets out to explain why he loves opera. He is a composer and a listener who prefers the interior adventures of opera, the “life-and-death urgency” of it, over the extravagant public spectacles, and he writes passionately and cogently about opera’s capacity to communicate these inner experiences.
Philip Gambone, a regular contributor to this magazine, sang in three operas during his college years and (thankfully) never again after that.