Second Nature - Young People's Opera Review
Opera Review of Second Nature
Music and Libretto by Matthew Aucoin
Review by LeAnn Overton
Matthew Aucoin’s opera written in 2015--Second Nature--is becoming more and more relevant as we see the brazen affects of global warming wreaking havoc on our planet.
The story is set after 2100 and focuses on a small group of humans who have sought refuge in a zoo in an attempt to close themselves off to the man-made annihilation of the earth. The Elder Constance enforces strict rules to keep members of the group from leaving the habitat. However, two children Lydia and Jake, are curious about what is “out there.”
Even though Jake and Lydia’s parents have resigned themselves to live and die in the Habitat, the children plot how to escape. There is a Bonobo monkey who has been in the zoo since the humans moved in. He offers the children a taste of real fruit from a tree grown illegally. Bonobo encourages them to leave synthetic behind and see what the world might be like now. The opera ends with the children stepping into the bright light of the sun and returning to nature.
The cast calls for strong singers. Especially challenging is the role of Elder Constance as it ranges from contralto to high mezzo. Elder Constance represents the voice of authority and has the most angular music. The parents David, baritone, and Elizabeth, soprano, alternate from echoing the Elder’s orders to expressing their grief at how they remember life before their confinement.
The parents also tenderly offer encouraging words of hope to their children. The Bonobo role, baritone, requires a more robust sound able to win the children’s trust and friendship as well as being able to convince them to escape the Habitat. Jake, tenor, and Lydia, soprano, have the most diverse music in the opera. The curiosity of youth is shown in a more spoken vernacular phrasing, for example, when the children banter back and forth about the merits of HD downloads versus reality.
Another example of this more complex musical texture is when the children express their frustration at feeling trapped in the Habitat. However, the music is beautiful, lush and enveloping as they taste of the real fruit. The final quartet music is woven between all the characters. The children are hopeful as they leave the Habitat, the parents bless their children as they let go, and there is even a moment of reconciliation from Elder Constance.
The score is demanding for both singers and instrumentalists. The rhythms are complex and driving, especially at the beginning of the opera. The score often times requires the precision of accompanying recitative. The instrumental passages linking the scenes together are really well-crafted chamber music.
The score calls for violin, clarinet and piano, easy to fit into a smaller venue or to record in our latest pandemic requirements. In spite of this small group, Aucoin has created lush orchestra sounds and provocative colors. Sets and props requirements are minimum. However, the juicier the fruit the Bonobo offers, the better!
The story line might be a little scary for younger children so the recommended age would be middle school through high school. The opera would provide a great jumping off point for a discussion of climate change and what we can do about it.
--- LeAnn L. Overton
Manhattan School of Music
Music Director--Amato Opera in Brief, Precollege Opera Workshop, and Faculty--Summer Session!
Photos provided by Lyric Opera of Chicago - (c) Todd Rosenberg.
Special thanks to Marianna Moroz, Public Relations Manager