I saw *Crossing* at BAM on 10/5/17. It's a new opera by Matthew Aucoin about Walt Whitman, a semi-fictionalized look into his time spent as a volunteer nurse in a Civil War hospital outside Washington DC.
An opera lives or dies by the strength of its music, and this music was very strong indeed. Beautiful, evocative, and the vehicle of the drama, but beyond that, it had a wonderful, satisfying sort of logic. The vocal lines and harmonies had a sturdiness that you rarely hear in new music. Maybe it sounded a little too much like John Adams now and then, both the textures and the harmonies. At times I thought I was listening to outtakes from*Nixon in China.* Hopefully Aucoin will grow out of that.
Aucoin wrote his own text, he did a good job of writing words that leave room for the music. The text setting was uniformly well-done, glorious writing for the voices - - truly vocal music, gratifying to hear and I imagine a joy to sing.
The orchestration was flavorful, it supported the drama and never drew attention to itself (Aucoin, a jack-of-all-trades, was also conducting). Diane Paulus was the director, and she kept the staging simple and direct. I'm not sure we needed the four dancers. They didn't seem to add anything, they just came onstage, fluttered around, expressed something ineffable, and left. Their role would have been better played by some well-chosen video projections.
Rod Gilfry sang like a dream as Whitman. I hope I get to hear more of him, he's a marvelous singer and clearly chooses some interesting projects.
I'll say the same thing about Aucoin: he's one of the composers taking part in the Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Theater commission project. The only work that's come out of that so far is Nico Muhly's *Two Boys,* done at the Met in 2013. That was also ambitious and impressive, also written by a composer straddling 30 (Muhly was 32, Aucoin is 27), but *Crossing* was much stronger because it was dramatic, and the drama came out of the music.
Aucoin's Met project will be an adaptation of Sarah Ruhl's play *Eurydice.* This is the same playwright as *For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday.* No word on when that's coming, I hope it's not too far off!
[Photos by Richard Termine, courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music]