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Gerald Carpenter: Matthew Aucoin Opera ‘Second Nature’ Studs Festival Artists Series Program

The Music Academy of the West’s Festival Artists Series — seven chamber ensemble performances featuring academy faculty, fellows and special guest artists — continues with a concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, at the Lobero Theatre.

(The series replaces the familiar Tuesdays at Eight series of years past, which, though a clever title, probably proved too precise and restrictive in terms of date, time and venue.)

The program will consist of Charles Martin Loeffler’s Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola and Piano (performed by Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, oboe; Cynthia Phelps, viola; and Warren Jones, piano) and the fully staged West Coast premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s chamber opera Second Nature, starring vocal fellows Ian Walker, Brittany Nickell, Allan Chan, Alexandra Smither, William Lowe and Noragh Devlin.

Aucoin will conduct the chamber ensemble (Sam Sparrow, clarinet; Rebecca Reale, violin; and Milena Gligić, piano), and stage direction and design will come from Victoria Crutchfield and François-Pierre Couture, respectively.

Warren played the Loeffler rhapsodies with members of Camerata Pacifica back in February 2015. They are moody, mysterious pieces, based on two poems — “L’Étang” and “La Cornemuse,” which translate to “The Pond” and “The Pipes” — by French poet Maurice Rollinat (1846-1903).

Matthew Aucoin (b. 1990) is a rather alarmingly gifted American composer, conductor, pianist and writer. Opera is his main, though by no means only, thing.

At 26, he has already had works commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, Lyric Opera of Chicago, American Repertory Theater, Peabody Essex Museum, Harvard University, and NPR’s “This American Life.”

He is, moreover, the youngest assistant conductor in the history of the Metropolitan Opera, and, earlier this year he was appointed as Los Angeles Opera’s first-ever artist-in-residence.

In a YouTube interview with WFMT Chicago, Aucoin spoke about the opera to be performed at the Lobero: “Second Nature has got to be the most specific commission I’ve ever worked on. We knew that it had to be a small-scale, short piece, that was going to be premiered in the Lincoln Park Zoo, and that the libretto should have kids in mind.”

A commission is one thing, of course; inspiration is quite another.

“The inspiration of the piece, on a deeper level, comes from my own awareness that we are messing up the planet — and this sense that nature is the thing that doesn’t change, for writers, for all of human history,” he says. “It’s only in the past 20 years or so that we’ve realized that actually we might have changed nature — we might have wounded it beyond healing. And what does that do to the human imagination, what does that do to our myths? What does it do to the stories we tell ourselves? So, Second Nature is a kind of reverse Garden of Eden story.”

As to what of the musical past he has drawn on for composing this opera, Aucoin says that he has “been listening to a lot of the smaller-scale Stravinsky,” and that as a result, “the finale of Second Nature is quite lush, but before that it’s very angular and very text-focused.”

Modestly, Aucoin disclaims any belief that his opera constitutes direct action with regards to the current crisis in humanity’s relationship to nature. 

“Of course, I hope it deepens peoples’ awareness, and I especially hope that it introduces people to the art form in a way that is fresh,” Aucoin says.

Tickets to the West Coast premiere of Aucoin’s Second Nature along with Loeffler’s Two Rhapsodies​ are $42 and can be purchased at the Lobero box office (33 E. Canon Perdido St.), by phone at 805.963.0761 or 805.899.2222 or online at

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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