As our Ensemble Studio School Tour of Second Nature gets underway, take a moment to get to know the opera’s talented young composer, Matthew Aucoin! Second Nature is an original work by this award-winning composer, pianist, poet and conductor, who has been called "the next Leonard Bernstein" (Wall Street Journal) and "Opera's Great 25-Year-Old Hope" (New York Times). Read on to learn more about how he got his start as a young composer and his inspirations behind this eco-friendly opera!
Name: Matthew Aucoin
Hometown: A small town near Boston, Massachusetts
What’s your favourite kind of music other than opera?
"So many kinds... indie rock, jazz, non-operatic classical music.
What was your favourite subject in school?
"Literature. Much more than music, actually."
What inspired you to become a composer?
"I caught the composing bug pretty early—I think I was six. I heard Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and got addicted."
Tell us about the first time a composition of yours was performed in public.
"I was about nine when I first heard my own music performed. A local orchestra played a piece of mine."
Where did you get the idea for Second Nature?
"I got the idea for Second Nature when I was walking around the Lincoln Park Zoo, in Chicago. Seeing our planet’s cool, funky, beautiful creatures made me think about how much of nature is disappearing—and a big part of that is humans’ fault. Some of those animals’ natural habitats are in danger because of pollution, for example. So I imagined a future world in which humans have messed up the environment so terribly that now we have to live in a zoo, to hide from the terrible heat and storms and toxic air outside."
How do you decide which voice type each
character should be?
"I decide the characters’ voice types based on their
personality and their attitudes. For example, a bird
might be a soprano, which is a really high woman’s
voice, and an old king might be a bass, which is
the deepest kind of male voice. But sometimes
there are surprises: sometimes a male character is
sung by a woman, or the other way around. The
human voice expresses parts of ourselves that we
don’t see every day. There are parts of me that
I would want to express through a heroic tenor
voice, and there are other parts of me that feel
more like a squeaky soprano."
What’s the point of having people sing a story
instead of just telling it like in a movie or a play
or a TV show?
"Yeah, why do opera singers sing? It risks looking
pretty silly, right? Well, try something out at home:
imagine you’re having a conversation with your
friend, and you start to get into an argument. At
first you’re talking normally, but then you start to
get mad. You can feel your cheeks getting flushed,
you can feel your pulse, and you raise your voice.
At the moment when you raise your voice, listen to
yourself: you just sang. When we raise our voices—if we’re really excited or overjoyed or angry—we
push them closer to music. (Imagine yourself
yelling “MOM! MOOOOOOOM!” You’re basically
singing.) And opera is the world of that music—the music of human passion, of the things that we
express in music because speech doesn’t say it
strongly enough. It’s a way of letting our passion
and emotions out into the world without hurting
What’s your advice for someone interested in being a composer?
"Listen. Just listen to and absorb as much music as you can—and not just music; listen to the music of the world around us. And if you want to make music up, find some friends that you want to make music with!"'
To learn more about Matthew and his past works, go to his website.
Reprinted with the permission of Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Matthew Aucoin, photo by Steven Laxton; Matthew Aucoin, photo by Steven Laxton; Matthew Aucoin, photo by Steven Laxton; Betty Allison, Charles Sy, Megan Quick, Emily D'Angelo, and Bruno Roy in Second Nature (COC, 2016), photo by Chris Hutcheson.
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“It was nice they didn’t have to go too far to take part in the theatre experience—our gym transformed into a theatre with very talented singers/actors and musicians.” – Candace Lombard, Holy Name Catholic School
The Ensemble Studio School Tour has officially kicked off with its production of Second Nature by Matthew Aucoin, one of America's most promising young composers. The group of talented COC Ensemble Studio artists will be travelling throughout southern Ontario, performing and educating thousands of students on the importance of opera and the performing arts. Already on the roster for this season's tour are schools in the Toronto District School Board, the Limestone District School Board, the York Region District School Board, the Peel District School Board, and the Grand Erie District School Board.
On Sunday, November 27, audiences of all ages can enjoy Second Nature in its only public performance at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre in Toronto.
Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future where humans have retreated from nature because of the deteriorating environment, Second Nature is about two curious and courageous pre-teens who decide to leave the safety of their artificial habitat and work to heal the planet. Dora Award-winning duo, director Ashlie Corcoran and designer Camellia Koo, bring the futuristic, zoo-like enclosure of Second Nature’s “Habitat” to life, and the opera is performed by the rising stars of the COC Ensemble Studio, Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals.
Second Nature has been hailed as "entertaining yet thoughtful" with an "absorbing and inventive" score (Chicago Tribune). The inspirational work is the creation of award-winning American composer, pianist and poet Matthew Aucoin, who has been called "the next Leonard Bernstein" (Wall Street Journal) and "Opera's Great 25-Year-Old Hope" (New York Times).
The Ensemble Studio School Tour of Second Nature runs from November 10 to December 4. For more information on hosting a performance of Second Nature, click here.
On Sunday, November 27 at 1:30 p.m., the COC is hosting a public performance of Second Nature in the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre at 227 Front Street East. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for youth 15 and under. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Lauren Eberwein, Aaron Sheppard (behind prop), and Iain MacNeil in Second Nature (COC, 2016), photo by Chris Hutcheson; Danika Lorèn, Aaron Sheppard, Samantha Pickett, Lauren Eberwein, and Iain MacNeil in Second Nature (COC, 2016), photo by Chris Hutcheson; (front) Betty Allison, Bruno Roy, Megan Quick, (back) Charles Sy, and Emily D'Angelo in Second Nature (COC, 2016), photo by Chris Hutcheson.
Before the Centre Stage Gala and Ensemble Studio Competition takes place on November 3, take a moment to become acquainted with our seven finalists! For more information on the event and the competition, or to purchase tickets, click here.
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Who is on your dream dinner party guest list?
David Duchovny (I had a dream once that we went for lunch and he was very nice), Anna Moffo, Amelia Earhart, George Orwell, Nina Simone.
What is your dream operatic role, regardless of voice type?
What is the best advice you've ever been given?
Eat your veggies first.
What book have you read again and again?
Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient.
What's the best thing about being an opera singer?
The passionate, brilliant, quirky, and inspiring people you get to meet—on stage, in the orchestra, behind the scenes, and in the audience.
"Be in the moment, enjoy yourself when you're performing."
What is your favourite musical? Hamilton, Rent, or Les Misérables
Rent! I did a lot of musical theatre in high school and would look for any excuse to do an impromptu duet of "Take me or leave me".
What would be your Lip Sync Battle song choice?
"Don't Rain on My Parade" by Barbra Streisand.
This world in which we all live in can be so stressful and ugly at times. As an opera singer, I love being able to transport the audience to another place filled with beautiful music and heartfelt stories. Nothing is more rewarding than when someone tells you that your performance brightened their day. Plus, five-year-old me is happy to be playing dress-up at work.
Vancouver, British Columbia
What is your favourite musical? Hamilton, Rent, or Les Misérables
Hamilton at a party, Les Misérables at the gym, and Rent when I am home alone.
Figaro in The Barber of Seville!
Harry Potter 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. And 2 as well, I suppose.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I am an identical twin. Besides the obvious differences in profession (opera singer vs. economist), we are fairly similar.
I get to pretend like singing all the time is for work instead of pleasure. I love pretty much everything about what I do.
St. John's, Newfoundland
Les Misérables, because Little Cosette was my first role!
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott—both for pleasure when I was younger and more recently for research when I played one of the sisters in the opera.
The theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I've been preparing for this moment since the '90s.
Spending every day with people who are open-minded, curious, and full of heart (not to mention FUN)!
I also have a folk band in which I play violin. We’re called the Humming Trees. I really do love this kind of music. I listen to folk music a lot in my daily life. It’s relaxing.
My dream role will sound cheesy but it is, and has been for many years, the role of Violetta in La Traviata. The music is just gorgeous. All the time! Never boring. The story is just breathtaking.
You get to play and sing emotions. Singing makes you vibrate. I think it should be mandatory for everyone to experience and use it as a therapy. It’s something that people aren’t used to feeling, to crying and shouting, and we get to do that every day. For me, it’s my therapy.
One thing people might be surprised to know about me is that I purposefully read crime fiction/mystery novels right before stepping out on stage, and have found that they’re my most effective way to clear my mind before performing.
What is your favourite musical?
It's so hard to choose one, but one that immediately comes to mind is Batboy the Musical. Most. Ridiculous. Plot. Ever!
"Listen, don't try, and just be."
What's the best thing about being an opera singer?
The best thing about being an opera singer is being able to share amazing music written by timeless composers, and tell amazing stories which are still truthful and relevant to our lives in the present today, with people all over the world.
Anything by Rush... "YYZ" would be an interesting song to sing.
This is hard to admit to the public, but I'll go ahead and say it. I don't care for chocolate... I'm glad that's off my chest.
I truly love singing, and I go home every day with a smile on my face because there is almost nothing I don't like about my job. I enjoy working on the music to improve it to my possible best, working with people in rehearsals, listening to recordings, etc. However, when all is said and done, the best thing for me is the performance.
I love feeling an extra bit of adrenaline before I go on stage, and cultivating everything my colleagues and I have worked towards into one live moment. This moment in performance is wonderfully special, and I hope to share it with an audience in a way that is memorable every time.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001