Matthew Aucoin’s ‘Eurydice’ opens at Metropolitan Opera: Deceptive cadence: NPR
Marty Sohl / The Metropolitan Opera
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has inspired operas since the beginning of art over 400 years ago. Tonight, New York’s Metropolitan Opera welcomes a new iteration: Eurydice, based on a 2003 play by Sarah ruhl. The music is from Matthieu Aucoin, who also released a new opera book next month.
Aucoin, 31, is a great mathematician: recipient of a MacArthur “genius” scholarship, he is a pianist, conductor, composer, impresario and writer. And he love opera, even though he finds it an “impossible” art form.
“I think impossibility is at the heart of what opera is and does,” he says, “because it aims for this union of all human senses and all art forms. Catastrophically fails every moment, you know, every performance. But this failure for me is really touching, in its own way. “
In his new book, The Impossible Art: Adventures at the Opera, Aucoin describes his passion for what he calls “the most messy human enterprise possible”. A chapter is devoted to adaptations of the Orphic myth, in which the divinely talented musician Orpheus goes to the underworld to bring back to life his deceased wife Eurydice, with tragic consequences.
Several Italian composers used the tale to create an opera in the early 17e century, including Jacopo Peri, including Euridice is the oldest surviving opera house, and Monteverdi, whose Orfeo remains today among the greatest works of the genre.
“Myth is essential to the art form,” Aucoin explains, “because it claims that music can conquer death, but we’re always going to screw it up. “
Aucoin himself wrote a play called The orphic moment, which takes place just before Orpheus turns to look at Eurydice, the act that sends her back to the underworld. It is featured on a new double album of Aucoin’s music by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Modern American Opera Company, the latter of which Aucoin co-founded.
When he received a commission from the Metropolitan Opera to write a new work, he considered expanding The orphic moment. But then he was introduced to the Sarah Ruhl play Eurydice.
Gregory Costanzo / courtesy Metropolitan Opera
Ruhl says she wrote the play to change the perspective of the story. “I have always liked the myth and have been drawn to it, and I have also been drawn to the accounts of the myth,” she explains. “But I realized that no one had said it from their point of view. Even when the operas are titled Eurydice, they don’t really say that from his point of view. “
Ruhl and Aucoin collaborated on an adaptation of the play, which takes place in the present and adds the character of Eurydice’s father, whom she finds in the underworld. After Eurydice crosses the River of Oblivion, her father helps her find her memories and her language.
“She goes to hell, becomes a total blank slate… and we see her become herself again,” Aucoin says. “It’s an amazing form for a play or an opera. And although the myth is contained in it, I actually think Sarah is up to something very different, and it was a liberation.”
The metropolitan opera
Soprano Erin Morley plays the title role, whose great air is titled “This is what it’s like to love an artist”.
“It’s complicated: Orpheus takes up so much space,” says Morley. “And that’s typical of a lot of artists that we might know. And they’re so passionate about so many things and so interesting to us.
“But they are also intolerable life partners,” she adds quickly, laughing.
Richard Termine / courtesy Metropolitan Opera
Opera director Mary Zimmerman won a Tony Award with her adaptation of Ovid Metamorphosis, which included the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. “I deal with these old stories because you can never put the nail in the coffin of their meaning,” she says. “It’s in motion and it’s multiple.
Indeed, there are several Orpheuses in this story. The character is portrayed as some sort of ordinary guy, but with an otherworldly flair. “We added the Orpheus lookalike,” Ruhl notes with admiration. “That was Matt’s idea. And I think musically it’s such a brilliant idea, because you get a countertenor paired with a baritone: you have this idea that the music, the immortal side of Orpheus , is really hot, a little androgynous. Out of this world, I guess. “
Eurydice was first staged at the LA Opera House, just before the pandemic. Aucoin thinks it may speak to audiences even more poignantly now.
“We don’t usually live that close to death,” he says. “And last year a lot of us had to deal with this. I really hope this piece is like a portal to engagement with whatever people are dealing with because this piece lives in the underworld, she lives in the afterlife. And it really asks the question: what would you say to a loved one there if you could meet him? “