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Matthew Aucoin

Publisher: AMP

Second Nature (2015)
Text Writer
the composer
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1 Hour 0 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
3Mz, T, B-bar
Programme Note
Matthew Aucoin Second Nature (2015)

Music Academy of the West, June 2016
Aucoin speaks with WFMT about Second Nature

   LYDIA, an eleven-year-old girl: Mezzo-soprano
   JAKE, a ten-year-old boy: Tenor
   ELDER CONSTANCE: Mezzo-soprano
   ELIZABETH, Jake’s mother: Soprano
   DAVID, Lydia’s father: Baritone*
   BONOBO: Baritone*

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Short synopsis:
Set in a fictional future when humans have retreated from nature because of the deteriorating environment, Second Nature tells the story of two inquisitive and courageous youths who decide to leave the safety of their artificial habitat and work to heal the planet.

It's a hundred years from now. The human race has paid a steep price for our wanton destruction of the environment: climate change has wreaked havoc worldwide, causing the oceans to flood and temperatures to rise to unbearable levels. Most of our species has been wiped out, but a small group of survivors took shelter in what was once a zoo: they've made this former zoo into an airtight "habitat," which has become a sealed-off, authoritarian society.

Elder Constance, the society's leader, informs her advisors, Elizabeth and David, that the law which forbids any inhabitant to leave the Habitat has become permanent. They had hoped to be able to go outside again, she says, but it's just not worth the danger of dealing with Nature again.

Two kids, Lydia and Jake, overhear this pronouncement, and react with anger and frustration. (Lydia is David's daughter, and Jake is Elizabeth's son.) They've been waiting their whole lives to go outside, and now it looks like they'll never get the chance.

The Bonobo, a giant ape who lives in the exhibit next door, suddenly addresses them. Lydia and Jake are shocked that the Bonobo can speak; the Bonobo says wearily that he's "learned your language through overexposure." The Bonobo hints that he has secrets to tell the kids…

…but the Elder bursts back in and furiously reprimands the kids for talking to the Bonobo. She summons their parents, whom she humiliates. When Elder Constance leaves, Lydia and Jake ask their parents what she's so worried about.

Elizabeth and David tell their children, finally, the true story of how they ended up in the Habitat. They'd always told their kids that human beings wanted to seal themselves off from Nature, but now they guiltily admit that they had to flee to save their lives.

When their parents leave, Lydia and Jake argue about whether it's worth running away to try to see what Nature's like (Lydia votes yes, but the idea freaks Jake out). The Bonobo interrupts them, and offers them something he's been illegally growing in his exhibit: real fruit, which is totally unlike the synthetic food the kids have grown up on.

Lydia tastes the fruit first, then offers it to Jake. They are overwhelmed by its freshness, its richness, its reality.

They hatch a plan to escape the Habitat: the adults dispose of the society's trash by tossing it down a garbage chute, so the kids will jump down the chute. Lydia realizes it's trash day, and the kids prepare to make their escape.

Elder Constance bursts back in. She's livid when she sees the kids plotting with the Bonobo, but even more so when she sees that they've eaten real fruit. She seems almost devastated, in fact. She summons Elizabeth and David and tells them that their children must be banished.

Lydia and Jake say that was exactly what they were hoping for: they want to see what's worth saving out in the real world. Elder Constance tries to change her tune and force them to stay — but Elizabeth and David stand up for their kids' newfound bravery and curiosity. Bitterly, grudgingly, Elder Constance agrees to let the kids free.

For the first time in their lives, Lydia and Jake witness the main door of the Habitat being opened. Slowly but surely, they make their way out into the world.

The score is luscious, particularly the kids' duo "The sun finds me again" and a Mozartean vocal quintet that concludes the opera, "Don't let me turn my face."
Daniel Kepl, Voice Magazine,08/07/2016
The 26-year-old composer/conductor/poet is in the midst of a remarkable ascendancy in the classical music world, and this short opera, which was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago for a performance at that city's zoo, is likely to remain one of the most discussed works in his oeuvre. Six characters, including one bonobo chimpanzee, inhabit a Bio-Dome-like structure in the year 2100 somewhere in the American Midwest. Jake (Allan Chan) and Lydia (Alexandra Smither) are teens who have never been outside the climate-controlled environment in which they now feel trapped. Elder Constance (Noragh Devlin) claims complete control over whatever happens inside, and threatens the others with dire punishments for questioning her judgment on any subject. David (Ian Walker) and Elizabeth (Brittany Nickell) are the respective parents of the two young people, and get caught in the middle when Jake and Lydia hatch a plan to escape.

As the bonobo who urges them on to freedom with the offer of an apple, Ben Lowe brings a thrilling element of otherness to the proceedings. Writing in a post-Romantic musical idiom that's influenced by Richard Strauss, among others, Aucoin uses rhyming couplets to put the opera's subversive message across. In a neat Gnostic reversal of the Garden of Eden story, a bite of this apple tastes like freedom.
Charles Donelan, Santa Barbara Independent,06/07/2016
One of the most in-demand composers of his generation, Aucoin knows how to put together operas that performers are grateful to perform but don't talk down musically to the listener

Second Nature was my first encounter with his freely tonal musical idiom, and I found the score absorbing and inventive, with its suggestions of Debussy here, neoclassical Stravinsky there, but all of it very much Aucoin's own. Vocal solos and ensembles merge into a seamless continuity linked by dialogs and instrumental passages.…

Children's operas that adults can enjoy just as much as their kids are rare enough these days. Aucoin's entertaining yet thoughtful environmental parable deserves to make the rounds.
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune,20/08/2015
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