November 18, 2019

Composer, conductor, writer, pianist, and 2018 MacArthur Fellow Matthew Aucoin is “one of the most sought-after young voices in classical music” (Wall Street Journal). Next February, he conducts the world premiere production of his third opera, Eurydice, in six performances at LA Opera, where he has served since 2016 as the inaugural Artist-in-Residence. A reimagining of the Orpheus story from its heroine’s perspective, Eurydice is based on the eponymous hit play by librettist and MacArthur Fellow Sarah Ruhl. Starring “opera’s coolest soprano” Danielle de Niese (New York Times), “outstanding young baritone” Joshua Hopkins (Globe and Mail, Canada), and Grammy-nominated baritone Rod Gilfry, its premiere production is by eminent director and MacArthur Fellow Mary Zimmerman. Eurydice was commissioned by LA Opera in collaboration with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, which looks forward to mounting its East Coast premiere in the 2021-22 season. Click here to see the video trailer for Eurydice.

Aucoin first dramatized the Orpheus myth in his cantata The Orphic Moment (2014). Presented as a double-bill with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, this was hailed by Opera News as “one of the most innovative, enjoyable evenings of musical theater I’ve experienced.” As the New York Times points out, “It’s not just Aucoin’s youth, versatility and prolific energy that single him out; it’s also the balance that his work strikes between innovation and tradition.”

A similar balance informs the work on which his new opera is based: Sarah Ruhl’s play Eurydice (2003), a Drama Desk Award nominee seen Off-Broadway, at London’s Young Vic and in hundreds of school and university productions. Rather than simply retelling the original Greek myth, Ruhl reimagines it as a coming-of-age story in which Eurydice must choose between returning to earth with her husband, Orpheus, or staying in the underworld with her father. Unlike her mythological counterpart, Ruhl’s Eurydice has considerable agency, and it is only because she calls to him that Orpheus looks back, fating her to remain in the land of the dead.

Ruhl wrote Eurydice at just 25, the same age as Aucoin when he first began adapting it for the opera house. Drawn to the play’s singular mix of tragedy, comedy and the absurd, he worked closely with the playwright-librettist, and found himself discovering new facets of his own compositional voice along the way. He explains:

“Sarah Ruhl’s play is magic. Somehow it blends an Alice in Wonderland-like sense of the surreal with an emotional transparency and honesty that will have you laughing through your tears. These qualities are perfect for opera, which, since it’s made of music, has a built-in surrealism and sense of magic. And I hope my music has matched Sarah’s dazzling sense of humor and emotional range.”

Eurydice marks Aucoin’s first opera since becoming LA Opera’s Artist-in-Residence, a newly created position that fuses his roles as composer and conductor. Highlights of his tenure to date including leading Verdi’s Rigoletto and the West Coast premiere of his own Walt Whitman-inspired opera, Crossing (2015). It was also he who conducted the world and New York premieres of Crossing at Boston’s American Repertory Theater and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, respectively, besides leading the world premiere of his first opera, Second Nature (2015), a Lyric Opera of Chicago commission that was subsequently mounted by the Canadian Opera Company, Music Academy of the West, and others.

Similarly sought after on podiums beyond LA Opera, and in music other than his own, Aucoin recently led Peter Sellars’s new treatment of Doctor Atomic at Santa Fe Opera and conducted and curated the San Diego Symphony’s annual citywide festival, Hearing the Future. He has also appeared with orchestras including the Rome Opera Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony, where he studied under Riccardo Muti as the Solti Conducting Apprentice, and was previously hired as the youngest Assistant Conductor in the history of the Metropolitan Opera. As the Boston Globe put it, “Aucoin is a star in ascendancy.

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Matthew Aucoin: Eurydice (world premiere)

LA Opera
Feb 1, 8, 14 & 20 at 7:30pm
Feb 16 & 23 at 2pm
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Composer / conductor: Matthew Aucoin
Librettist: Sarah Ruhl
Director: Mary Zimmerman
Scenery: Daniel Ostling
Costumes: Ana Kuzmanic
Chorus: Grant Gershon

Eurydice: Danielle de Niese
Father: Rod Gilfry
Orpheus: Joshua Hopkins
Orpheus Double: John Holiday
Hades: Barry Banks
Little Stone: Stacey Tappan
Big Stone: Raehann Bryce-Davis
Loud Stone: Matthew Grills

Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and LA Opera

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© 21C Media Group, November 2019