... neither dry-as-dust scholarship nor gushing, gossipy opera dish, although it packs plenty of historical knowledge, stylistic analysis and enthusiastic personal details into its pages ... It is, instead, an omnium gatherum of essays on diverse operatic subjects, mostly the relationship of words and music ... Mr. Aucoin knows the score, inside and out ... Matthew Aucoin is a polymath. He is at home in the world, and with the sensibilities, of Claudio Monteverdi and Jacopo Peri, opera’s first composers at the beginning of the 17th century. He is equally comfortable among musical and performance touchstones of the late 20th and 21st, from Tom Waits and Animal Collective to RuPaul and Radiohead ... The autobiographical parts of Mr. Aucoin’s breezily written book will hold a reader’s interest. But this book is more than his story. Its investigations of musical themes and personal obsessions constitute a scholar’s analysis and a practitioner’s diary as well as a lover’s rhapsody. Mr. Aucoin is an amiable and knowledgeable field guide to the territory of the form he calls 'another planet' ... Mr. Aucoin takes his readers into the very processes, intimate and extended, of collaboration ... People who thought that opera was only for ladies in furs and jewels, or old gentlemen falling asleep during bloated spectacles in foreign languages, have nothing to fear. Those audiences are gone.
... the second chapter, 'Primal Loss,' offers a profound meditation that ends with Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus ... a rich and sensitive overview that wrapped up what I found the book’s best essay. Between the discussions of Monteverdi and Birtwistle, Aucoin looked at the late 17th century Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and the triptych struck me as no less than revelatory, a fresh illumination of a potent ancient story ... Between the discussions of Monteverdi and Birtwistle, Aucoin looked at the late 17th century Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and the triptych struck me as no less than revelatory, a fresh illumination of a potent ancient story ... Nearly as ravishing was the chapter on Verdi ... for a text that ranks ultimately as a magnificent blend of criticism and rapture, his scrutiny of the work revels again in paradox, even as it struggles for an analysis equal to a masterpiece.
Aucoin happily wrestles with multiple impossibilities in this highly personal book. In vivid, granular detail, he explores composers and operas he loves ... a sense of delight and wry humor also permeates the book. He revels in the sheer joy of figuring out how composers manage to negotiate opera’s immense challenges. Whether analyzing Desdemona’s final lament in Verdi’s Otello (1887) or the way Stravinsky gives unexpected grit to the pious Anne Trulove in The Rake’s Progress (1951), Aucoin’s pleasure is palpable ... Even those who may not know much about music will have no trouble following his minutely detailed musical analyses. Aucoin has the impulses of a master auto mechanic, relishing the act of getting under the hood and pulling the engine apart. Best of all, he wants to pass that knowledge on to us. Eschewing musicological jargon, he conveys his enthusiasm and wonder as he spells out, bar by musical bar, how Monteverdi creates a mood or Mozart manages to touch our hearts in the final scene of The Marriage of Figaro.