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Matthew Aucoin

Publisher: AMP

Crossing (2015)
Commissioned by the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University in association with the Music-Theatre Group
Text Writer
the composer
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
1 Hour 40 Minutes
11 male singers
Bar, T, B-Bar, S
Programme Note
Matthew Aucoin Crossing (2015)
Composer Note:

What is it, then, between us?” With this resonant question at the climax of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman asks many things at once: what is his relationship to his contemporaries, his fellow men and women? What is his relationship to you, the reader, whoever you may be, whenever and wherever you may be reading his poem? And what is the relationship between the contradictory elements of his own self? The phrase “between us” itself has a double meaning: what is the relationship between us, and what stands between us, keeping us apart?

What is his relationship to you, the reader, whoever you may be, whenever and wherever you may be reading his poem?

In the moment that Whitman asks this question, he is in a state of unknowing: he wants to know, and needs to know. Crossing emerges out of my sense that Whitman wrote his poetry out of need – that his poetry is not, or is not exclusively, a vigorous assertion of what he is, but rather the expression of a yearning to be what he is not, or to reconcile opposing aspects of his identity. The person/persona/personality “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs” is the living product of this need.

So, in Crossing, the Walt Whitman who walks the stage is not that familiar poetic persona. Rather, this is Whitman as I imagine he might have been to himself, starting from a midlife crisis which prompts his radical, heroic decision to drop everything and volunteer in war hospitals. Naturally, this Whitman is a fictional creation. Crossing is a musical fantasia which imagines and realizes the many forces – generosity, insecurity, longing, selflessness, bravery, unfulfilled sexual desire, a need to escape his own life, a boundless kindness – that caused a man named Walter Whitman, Jr. to forge an indelible embodiment of the American spirit in his poetry.

— Matthew Aucoin

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Short synopsis:
Crossing is an operatic fantasia based on Walt Whitman’s experiences as a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War. The opera delves into Whitman’s psyche, exploring what might have led a middle-aged New Yorker to drop everything and work in brutal conditions for years on end. Was it pure generosity, pure selflessness? Or did Whitman feel some need to escape his own life – or to know himself better by putting himself through a Dante-esque challenge?

Once in the hospital, Whitman strikes up a friendship with a volatile young soldier named John Wormley. As the war drags on, their relationship grows deeper and more complicated: Whitman never could have expected either the love or the betrayals that await him.

American Repertory Theater
-  Notes, Photos, Credits, Press
-  Program

NPR Music
-  story on Crossing and Aucoin

  • 20 JUN 2020
    The Morgan Library New York, NY
    Ben Lerner, poet/writer

What was the music like? After the performance I was in an elevator with several of the ushers. One of them started singing a tune from the opera, adding when we started to listen that he heard all four performances and didn’t have much of a voice. Try to think of a contemporary opera with a melody that is an ear worm. When Crossing debuted in 2015, The New York Times suggested that Aucoin ‘may be the most promising operatic talent in a generation’. If he has ushers singing his music, he just may be the chosen one.
Rick Perdian, Seen and Heard International,13/10/2017
Necessarily dominated by the central character of Walt Whitman, here portrayed less as The Poet and more as Everyman, and finely sung with suitable gravitas by baritone Rod Gilfry, this is nonetheless a true ensemble piece. The superb 11-voice male chorus functions both as clearly defined individual soldiers and as the collective, which is reflected in the writing: at times contrapuntal, at times a mass of individual notes, at times in perfect harmony.
Gina Leishman, Financial Times,10/10/2017
Crossing is an engaging opera, held together over its generous hour and forty-minute run time (no intermission, thank goodness!) by a cohesive score happily swollen with motivic unity. When a recording becomes available, audiophiles can look forward to listening on repeat like a Wagnerite, collecting and linking more motifs each time.
Jeremy Hirsch,,10/10/2017
…after so much in the opera Crossing that was admirable, uplifting and downright heart-rending, there was no standing ovation (at least not on the opening night, October 3).
James Jorden,,09/10/2017
If you are interested in contemporary opera, or just want to say you were there to hear this brilliant composer's work when he is writing masterpieces a decade from now, by all means go.
Steven Pisano, Feast of Music,07/10/2017
Well constructed and frequently astoundingly moving, the score encompasses a variety of styles and is never less than compelling and is often much more so.
Richard Sasanow, Broadway World,06/10/2017
The story is a fantasy. Still, it could have been spun into a nice little neo-verismo opera: soapy and a bit shocking, with a satisfying resolution. But Aucoin has gone for something much more profound…
James L. Paulk, Classical Voice North America,06/10/2017
Aucoin's musical voice is immediate and authoritative. Fundamentally tonal, his palette flickers and shines with delicately flecked woodwinds, orchestral piano and sparkling percussion. His motoric rhythms exhibit dashes of the brand of minimalism espoused by John Adams (although that isn't a term that Adams embraces), overridden by carefully crafted lyrical lines and long building chordal sequences that really do seem to go somewhere. A delicate colourist, he can conjure stars in a night sky or a river in flood. His word setting is adroit, demanding and frequently inspired.
Clive Paget, Limelight,05/10/2017
Aucoin’s musical language is confident, yet shot through with intimations of future adventure.
Justin Davidson, Vulture,05/10/2017
The music grabbed me from the start. The orchestra rustles with spiraling, jagged arpeggios and frenetic ascending riffs — grounded, just barely, by pedal tones that swell and then disappear. Lyrical fragments try to coalesce into a melodic line, but keep you off guard. The music is so spiked with dissonance, clusters and wayward chords that it seems boldly modernist, even when the harmonies are tonally anchored.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,04/10/2017
Crossing is a taut, teeming and inspired work. With a libretto by Mr. Aucoin, the opera is based on the diaries of Walt Whitman from his transformative experience tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War at makeshift hospitals on the outskirts of Washington.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,31/05/2015
Aucoin’s music, especially in his solo vocal writing, can be highly emotional and chromatic, often built on series of thirds or fourths, rather than stepwise or tonal melodies. Melodic lines often build up tension and then resolve with a sudden shift of register: instead of a seventh scale degree resolving to a tonic eighth (B-natural to a C in a mode based on C, by typical classical half-step motion), lines suddenly conclude by dropping a seventh or ninth.
Laura Stanfield Prichard, Boston Musical Intelligencer,30/05/2015
The piece is richly detailed, psychologically nuanced and philosophically provocative.
Ed Siegel, WBUR,30/05/2015
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