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Friday, September 29, 2017

In Context: Crossing

Composer Matthew Aucoin makes his BAM debut with Crossing—a chamber opera taking inspiration from Walt Whitman’s Civil War diary, directed by American Repertory Theater artistic director Diane Paulus. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #BAMNextWave.

Program Notes

Crossing (PDF)


Portrait Series
What is it then between us? (BAM blog)
Crossing's cast and creative team poses for portraits with pinhole photographer Stefan Killen before answering Walt Whitman's eternal question, "What is it then between us?"

I Am With You: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Illustrated (BAM blog)
Illustrator Nathan Gelgud portrays the beginning of Whitman’s landmark poem. Written years before the events depicted in Crossing, this source text was seminal to Aucoin’s process of imagining Whitman for the stage.

Walt Whitman and the Essence of Opera (The New Yorker)
Yale professor Wai Chee Dimock offers an in-depth look at Crossing and the many ways it renders Walt Whitman’s reality.

Diane Paulus (Time)
In this 100 Most Influential People profile, Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald characterizes the Crossing director’s creative spirit.

A Far Cry at 10: nourishing one another through music and more (The Boston Globe)
A look at how the Boston-based chamber orchestra and Crossing performing ensemble’s collective ethos and “DIY backbone” carries through to their rehearsal process.

Watch & Listen

Crossing: A Lecture/Recital With Matthew Aucoin (YouTube)
The rising wunderkind gives an enriching lecture, elucidating the origins of his new opera and sharing of his investigation into Walt Whitman’s body of work.

A 25-Year-Old Opera Composer Who Does It All (NPR)
All Things Considered covers the rise of Aucoin, with director Diane Paulus and Crossing baritone Rod Gilfry sharing their impressions of the young composer.

Now your turn...

How did you enjoy the show? Likes? Dislikes? Surprises? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #BAMNextWave.


  1. Left after 10 min. Abominable show.

  2. I found Crossing to be fascinating. It took time to get used to the music's key but the voices of Gilfry, Lewis and Tines were outstanding and helped me to appreciate the music. Loving Whitman's writings, I liked their use as lyrics. Despite the brevity of the opera, there were moments of feeling it too long. Overall, I liked it. I left when it was over.

  3. Loved the show, it was very powerful and moving and certainly relevant in today's chaotic times. I have heard and enjoyed several other of Aucoin's works but never of this large scale. My only criticism is that the last chorus was not necessary and diluted the emotional tension of John Wormley's death - the show should have ended there.

  4. beautiful. music owes a lot to John Adams, but has enough originality and drama to hold its own. libretto: WOW! of course it helps to have Whitman's words but still, a great libretto. the singers were fantastic, esp Gilfrey, Tines, Lewis...amazing. Didn't love the direction. the acting felt a little forced. Also what was up with the dancers? didn't add ANYTHING. I would take the dancers out of the show. Also, no disrespect, and I feel terrible saying this, but the orchestra was not the greatest new music band I ever heard... oh, and the video (which I usually HATE), was extremely well done. Overall, not perfect maybe (what is) but the piece stayed with me. I"m still hearing it, seeing it in my mind a couple days later.

  5. Good moments but overall boring. The very first moment of silence, which allowed the audience to breathe was after an hour of constant music. No real contrasts or reliefs in the music, which makes everything sounds the same. We could feel the talent of the singers but the piece did not put them to good use. Disappointing.

  6. I found the music to be original and evocative, with especially beautiful writing for chorus, winds and percussion, performed with clarity and passion. I admire the composer’s choice of a challenging topic, treating with complexity, and I’m glad I stayed for all of it.

  7. The story is important and moving, and the singing was, on the whole, excellent. The music, however, isn't very memorable, and the text setting (declamation) was painfully slow throughout, no matter what the words were expressing. For me it made the opera seem much longer than it actually was. Mr. Aucoin is young, so there's plenty of time for him to learn his craft.

  8. Great music and excellent singers in resonant and fascinating story.

  9. I felt I was going to like the style of the music after listening to the first prologue. Unfortunately, because of the lack of much contrast between music pieces, the opera's music, as a whole, just blends together and becomes unrememberable. This to me is sad because I like complex music overall but don't think it works well with a an hour and forty minute opera.

    There was parts of the plot I thought were weak as well. The romance between the main characters seems sudden to me and I thought I might missed some crucial plot detail when they were talking about "crossing boundaries." I felt like the lead up to this (if there was one) could of been focused on a little more for me to care more about it near the end.

    Besides that the acting/singing was surprisingly good all around. I really liked the main actor playing Whitman and the actors attempts to depict suffering were effective.

    Overall to me this isn't a great opera but I still enjoyed seeing it if just to see something more contemporary then what I am use to.

  10. This young composer is talented but his opera is not yet fully baked. There are things to admire in the orchestrations and some of the choral writing. However, the libretto is often hackneyed, a great sin, since its subject is Whitman. Overall I found that the opera's central conceit depicted Whitman in a reprehensible way that I found impossible to reconcile with the person who speaks through his poetry. The man's tenderness, curiosity and ebullience were mostly absent from the vocal writing. I would have liked to see Mr. Aucoin work with a skilled librettist and refine his musical and dramatic ideas more.

  11. This an immature work. There are some engaging, nicely crafted orchestral and choral passages - but not much vocal fire. I thought the depiction of Whitman was seriously off-base. Mr. Aucoin should try working with a skilled librettist who has a clue about the subject matter.

  12. I loved this opera. I am a fan of words and ideas more than a music aficionado, so I can't comment with as much erudition as some on the music, but I found the shifting harmonies and interweaving of tones to be fascinating and endlessly workable. The use of Whitman's words as lyrics and not always in the way he originally intended (for example, using his homage to Lincoln as an homage to Whitman himself) was to me quite inspired. Most of all I loved the portrayal of Whitman himself, with indeed all of the poet's love of humanity and of life. This love was beautifully illustrated when put to the (I think imagined) test of betrayal; the idea that such love is a force of redemption and purification was intriguing and beautiful. The themes of hope and despair, and the question of how to live and remain alive amid death and pain, were personally very resonant. The repeated theme of crossing was also cleverly played out. The theme begins with an intense crossing from life to death. The crossing back and forth of the chorus from hope to despair and the movement of the wounded soldier across lines of allegiance and boundaries of both morality and propriety carry forward the theme. It ends with Whitman once again cradling and comforting a dying man. I found the whole story inspiring and one of the few successful attempts amid the contemporary spate of opera and musicals with settings of horror and tragedy. The intense horror of the war is clearly and evocatively conveyed. Overall I loved the piece, thought it fresh and inspired, creative and beautiful. Contemplating going again tonight.

  13. Quite intriguing. Compelling story and superb delivery. Excellent voices and acting. As a Puccini fan, I missed the more melodic tones, but "get modern" and deal with it!

  14. Music got a little monotonous after awhile, like not quite up-to-snuff Phillip Glass. But AuCoin is still young, and this was an auspicious effort. The great voices kept me in my seat, though. Gilfrey especially was terrific. Really appreciated his enunciation making the lyrics come thru clearly. Same with all the leads. The dance did not add anything, though. We saw two really interesting performances this weekend. The better one was Boulez's Repons at the Park Ave Armory.

  15. Crossing at BAM. Sunday October 8th. 3.00 pm

    I wasn’t aware that it was an Opera. I was surprised because at the beginning I was not happy with what was happening, but the story caught me without me noticing.

    I was interested in the plot. It is a mix of different stories and I just wanted to know how it would work.

    At the beginning, I thought it was a story of an old man looking for meaning in his life; it was.

    Then a twist, a soldier looking for redemption from something he did wrong with his battalion; it also was.

    Then the realization of the main character that he was the chosen one; apocalyptic images reveled to an ex-slave that in some way awakened the healing powers of the protagonist. A power he did not know he has until the slave told him about his visions of the future of the world.

    After that, a confrontation between good and evil; confrontation that happened between the two main characters.

    That was not all; a love story between good and Evil. They are in love and they consumed their love.

    Then you think that both characters are the same man. The struggle of what he is, what he is not, and why he is in that way.

    It is not that these kind of plots and sub-plots do not happen in any other story, but, to what I am referring here is the way the Director builds so much expectation, creates climax, puts that expectations in the audience make them, at least in me, that something will happen, then another twist, a character or circumstance changes everything, and that cycle stays open and ends open.

    That is okay because it is not the traditional way of seeing this kind of dramatic productions, which creates certain expectations in the audience, different kind of expectations that keep the audience trying to guess what is going to happen with the characters.

    The Director approach of breaking climax to move the story forward was interesting. I thought that it would be something, like in many classic Operas, that would help to rise the drama to more dramatic moments building a final climax, the in crescendo arc that always lets the audience in the verge of their seats, but it did not happen that way, and believe me, I am okay with that. It was something different.

    For instance, after the good and evil consumed their love, the director created a scene where all the people in the hospital are looking at the lovers sleeping together. It keeps the moment for as if something is going to happen with the good main character, but nothing happened, a woman enters in the scene with a letter and then everybody feels hopeless with the good news, that the woman in her remarks about what will happen with the hospital, now that the war ended, make everybody feel downhearted. What did happen with the two lovers, it will be another surprise later in the production.

    And so on… More things happened. The evil character accused the good character of taking advantage of him because he was young and wounded, then the evil character is dying and the good character found him. Both confessed how much they love each other. The evil character dies in the arms of the good character, his only love.

    I think it will work better as a play than an Opera. Sometimes things are what they are, no need to be more than that. As you can read in many different comments, the singing was quite slow and make the show longer than it should be.

    The Opera uses and it is based and many references about the poet’s life, including a reference from the poem he wrote about Abraham Lincoln death, “O Captain! My Captain!”

  16. One of the best new operas I've seen and heard. Whitman's lyrical poetry makes a perfect text for musical expression and Aucoin's music was lush and evocative. Amazing performances in the lead roles combined to make a very moving experience.

  17. Outstanding on every level. Music was so rich and compelling, it demands another hearing. Brilliantly sung and sensitively stages, the marriage of Whitman’s poetry and Aucoin’s score reached deeply , leaving me quite shaken.

  18. Overall all, I enjoyed the production of this touching and very moving opera. The singing was marvelous and the portrayal of one of America's greatest poets uncanny. How can one begin to express the horrors of war in any art form?

  19. Exciting to have a young new composer/librettist of this caliber. Enjoyed Crossing, but even more look forward to what he will be bringing to Next Wave in coming years.

  20. My wife and I were both very moved by this opera, one almost couldn't not be, as the material is so touching. Musically I felt it was very uneven, shades of Benjamin Britten, and some John Adams, but I felt that Aucoin's musical language is a bit too academic, fearing to tread too much into melody, which is so sadly missing in most contemporary opera. The opera seemed to miss an American idiom, that would evoke the Civil War era and Whitman's sense of America. Vocally I felt that Davone Tines was outstanding. The dancing intruded inappropriately. Perhaps the pas des deux in the part where the soldiers reminisce about their pre-war lives would have been more effective off the main set. The other times when the dancers invaded the scene I felt: "where did these guys come from all of a sudden?" Parts of the libretto were flatfooted, I agree that a librettist could have helped, if he or she was really tuned into Whitman's language and spirit.

  21. I'm so happy that BAM was able to bring this production to us. I found it gorgeous, intelligent and extremely carefully put together. So dark. So bleak. Also very consistent. There are few decisions I didn't like, to be honest. Maybe too much dancing. The first dancing scene was great but the additional dancing didn't always gel to me. Otherwise, I found the music and the libretto were brilliant. I've seen many other operas that felt too ambitious, far more academic, less polished, under-cooked etc so I appreciated the focus and restraint in these musical and thematic elements. Props to the performing ensemble, instrumentalists and singers. BAM has put on far weaker "operas" but this was world class.