Opera folks, especially in the New York City area, seem to be continually grappling with the fact that there isn’t enough opera around. We have the grandest of the grand, of course, in our beloved Metropolitan Opera, but with the loss of New York City Opera a few years ago, there’s much talk about what comes next.
Well, there’s plenty of opera around. We just have to look for it. Many of us find ourselves giving attention to the several “smaller” opera companies (that, sadly, seem to come and go), and even our much lamented New York City Opera is back with an active (but slimmed-down) company seeking to establish a new foothold.
So the smaller companies are here, and doing good work. And they are not just in New York. On a recent visit to Caramoor in nearby Westchester County (last noted here exactly five years ago), we were introduced to the American Modern Opera Company. Now in its third season, the company has already found a place in opera throughout the country, and we were very lucky to have this performance for our first event with AMOC.
Describing itself as an opera company “on a new model,” it is led by Artistic Directors Matthew Aucoin and Zack Winokur, both already established as leaders in their respective fields. Aucoin, best known as a composer, and Winokur, a dancer, choreography, and producer, have been making important contributions for a few years now. They have organized AMOC as the “artistic home,” as they describe the company, “for 17 of the most exciting singers, dancers, and instrumentalists of the rising generation.”
That’s a description I find myself particularly excited about, for it immediately puts to rest the usual clichés about the so-called “gap” between young people and their elders (or vice versa). The older generations – especially in a field so frequently characterized as “traditional” as opera – are often perceived as not being interested in or receptive to the work of younger people in the field. Not so with AMCO. I would wager that all of us in the audience at Caramoor on July 25 were sincerely enthusiastic about what we heard and saw.
The concert was titled “Veils for Desire,” which Aucoin described as a program that “features vocal music which expresses and embodies strange, unnamable desires.” Aucoin’s notes continue: “The poetic texts that the music brings to life are themselves mysterious and metaphorical,” he writes. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on, challenging the listener: “…but the music often exceeds or redirects the poetry’s intensity; often the music gives voice to wilder and stranger feelings than the texts might suggest on the page.”
Well said, and giving plenty of artistic space to those poetic texts was Narrator Wayne Koestenbaum (“poet, critic, novelist, artist, performer”). Bringing us to the hinted-at “wilder and stranger feelings” were stunning performances, with Aucoin at the piano and Paul Appleby, tenor, and Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor. We know and much appreciate Appleby’s and Costanzo’s work at The Met and they both lived up to the level of excellence we’ve come to expect from them. It was truly masterly singing, with songs chosen from Britten and Monteverdi and including a beautiful performance of a duet from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Thankfully for those of us who have been paying attention to Matthew Aucoin’s work, we had two more lovely duets from Appleby and Costanzo. One of these included selections from Aucoin’s up-coming Eurydice, premiering at the Los Angeles Opera this season and at The Met in 2020-2021 (which again demonstrates that even older “traditional” companies like The Met are paying attention to younger composers and performers). Some of us had heard more pieces of the opera when he brought about 20 singers from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music to our club for a private performance, and between that introduction and what we heard at Caramoor in July, we’re fully anticipating the new opera when we have it.