Virtual Event: Matthew Aucoin


The Impossible Art:
Adventures in Opera

in conversation with GARTH GREENWELL


December 7, 2021
7:00 PM ET


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Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes MATTHEW AUCOIN—celebrated composer, conductor, and cofounder of the American Modern Opera Company—for a discussion of his book The Impossible Art: Adventures in Opera. He will be joined in conversation by GARTH GREENWELL, celebrated author of What Belongs to You and Cleanness.

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About The Impossible Art

From its beginning, opera has been an impossible art. Its first practitioners, in seventeenth-century Florence, set themselves the unreachable goal of reproducing the wonders of ancient Greek drama, which no one can be sure was sung in the first place. Opera’s greatest artists have striven to fuse multiple art forms—music, drama, poetry, dance—into a unified synesthetic experience. The composer Matthew Aucoin, a rising star of the opera world, posits that it is this impossibility that gives opera its exceptional power and serves as its lifeblood. The virtuosity required of its performers, the bizarre and often spectacular nature of its stage productions, the creation of a whole world whose basic fabric is music—opera assumes its true form when it pursues impossible goals.

The Impossible Art is a passionate defense of what is best about opera, a love letter to the form, written in the midst of a global pandemic during which operatic performance was (literally) impossible. Aucoin writes of the rare works—ranging from classics by Mozart and Verdi to contemporary offerings of Thomas Adès and Chaya Czernowin—that capture something essential about human experience. He illuminates the symbiotic relationship between composers and librettists, between opera’s greatest figures and those of literature. Aucoin also tells the story of his new opera, Eurydice, from its inception to its production on the Metropolitan Opera’s iconic stage. The Impossible Art opens the theater door and invites the reader into this extraordinary world.

Praise for The Impossible Art

"Triple threat Matthew Aucoin: conductor, librettist, and composer, and now writer and thought leader. The Impossible Art sheds new light on the musicology, history, and personalities that bring opera to life, with a poet’s appreciation of the importance of the libretto, often overlooked. Personal, witty, and well-researched, it will have you rushing to recordings of works you know well, and ones you have never heard, to listen with Aucoin’s provocative insights in mind." —Renée Fleming

"Matthew Aucoin's The Impossible Art shines with unforced generosity; his generation’s perceptiveness, honesty, and frank address; and the personally felt urgency of moving history forward. Writing with uncanny wisdom and a modesty that is equal parts nerdy and heroic, here is a musician who is as insightful about Auden as about Stravinsky and who blows your mind with psychedelic and synesthetic descriptions of Birtwistle. This is a book infused with first love, and first vows of clear-eyed, lifelong devotion." —Peter Sellars

"I could not put this book down. To read such cogent insights from such an important composer is pure joy from beginning to end. I thought I knew a fair amount about opera, but I learned a lot. If you are new to opera, this book will draw you in—if you are already among the converted, this book will open your eyes to new vistas about this greatest of arts." —Patrick Summers, Artistic & Music Director of the Houston Grand Opera

Garth Greenwell
Garth Greenwell

Garth Greenwell

Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which won the British Book Award for Debut of the Year, was long-listed for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for six other awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Greenwell's fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, A Public Space, and VICE, and he has written criticism for the London Review of Books and New York Times Book Review, among other publications. His latest book, Cleanness, was longlisted for the Prix Sade 2021, the Joyce Carol Oates Prize, and the Gordon Burn Prize. He lives in Iowa City.

Matthew Aucoin
Matthew Aucoin

Matthew Aucoin

Matthew Aucoin is an American composer, conductor, writer, and pianist, and a MacArthur Fellow. He has worked as a composer and conductor with the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, American Repertory Theater, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Music Academy of the West. He was the Los Angeles Opera’s Artist in Residence from 2016 to 2020, and is a cofounder of the American Modern Opera Company.

Photo Credit: the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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Harvard Book Store’s award-winning event series continues online! Named "Best of Boston: 2020 Best Virtual Author Series" and "2021 Best Virtual Author Series" by Boston magazine.

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