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.