Book details

The Impossible Art

Adventures in Opera

Author: Matthew Aucoin

The Impossible Art

The Impossible Art


About This Book

A user's guide to opera—Matthew Aucoin, "the most promising operatic talent in a generation" (The New York Times Magazine), describes the creation of his groundbreaking...

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Book Details

A user's guide to opera—Matthew Aucoin, "the most promising operatic talent in a generation" (The New York Times Magazine), describes the creation of his groundbreaking new work, Eurydice, and shares his reflections on the past, present, and future of opera

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.

Imprint Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



In The News

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Wall Street Journal

"Exceptional . . . [Aucoin's] passion is evident in every chapter . . . An inspirational trip through highlights of 400 years of opera." —Kirkus Reviews

"[The Impossible Art's] investigations of musical themes and personal obsessions constitute a scholar’s analysis and a practitioner’s diary as well as a lover’s rhapsody . . . [Aucoin's] intellect is sharp and varied, his tastes catholic." —Willard Spiegelman, The Wall Street Journal

"The Impossible Art blends essay, memoir, and sharply affectionate criticism of the art form Aucoin calls “another planet." —Malcolm Gay and David Weininger, The Boston Globe

"Vivid . . . 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." —Wynne Delacoma, The American Scholar

"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

"Opera lovers will be delighted by this conversational, memoir-style book from an author who has spent years studying and writing in the art form." —Elizabeth Berndt-Morris, Library Journal

"Aucoin speaks eloquently from his own experience as composer, conductor, writer, and pianist . . . With substantial lists of works cited and recommended recordings, Aucoin's insightful and informative opera history will engage everyone interested in music, including students and opera fans." —Booklist

"[Aucoin gives readers] a rare behind-the-scenes look at an art form with a reputation of being particularly impenetrable to outsiders." —Corinne Segal, Lit Hub

About the Creators

The Impossible Art

The Impossible Art