March 06, 2019

Lyric Goes to the Zoo, Second Nature Premieres in August

Lyric Unlimited's 2014/15 season was marked by three spectacular new productions: the world premieres of the klezmer opera The Property and the mariachi opera El Pasado Nunca Se Termina, along with the brand-new family presentation The Magic Victrola. And there's still one more to come! Lyric Unlimited has commissioned an exciting new children's opera, Second Nature, to be premiered at the Lincoln Park Zoo in August.

Why an opera at the zoo? Second Nature is set in the not-so-distant future; the environment has deteriorated and humans have decided it's safer to live in zoo-like habitats that protect them from the outside world. Encouraged by the other animal inhabitants, two young children dare to explore the world outside the walls to see if there is still something worth saving. This is the perfect story to be set at beautiful Café Brauer at Lincoln Park Zoo, one of Chicago's most beloved cultural gems.  

This new opera is being written by exciting young composer, conductor, pianist, and poet Matthew Aucoin. A recent graduate of Harvard University, he is already winning accolades for his many talents. The Wall Street Journal even dubbed him "the next Leonard Bernstein," and The New York Times Magazine called him "opera's great 25-year-old hope" last week.

Matthew Aucoin is the exciting young composer and conductor writing this new commission.

Mark your calendars now for August 19 and 20! Tickets will be free and performances are open to the public, but reservations will be required. Performance times and more details will be announced soon. Check for all the latest updates.

Here, Aucoin describes in his own words how he is approaching the unique challenge of creating this highly anticipated new work.

On Second Nature

An opera for kids. But is there such a thing as an opera "for adults?" If there is, I don't want to hear it. Opera, by nature, exists in a mythical space — it lives high above and far beneath adult reality. It's sublime and subliminal, it's sacred and obscene, it gives voice and form to the unspeakable and the repressed.

Here's a litmus test for any opera: does it manage to shut down all our rational adult defense mechanisms, so that we innocently submit ourselves to total sensory experience? Are questions of "believability" made irrelevant? Does it speak to us with a voice that cannot possibly be real, yet somehow is?

Opera addresses an ancient innocence in us, and it demands a childlike openness. So to write an opera with kids in mind is just to extend what opera always does. Just like the world of fairy tales, opera is peopled by archetypes-made-flesh, by walking manifestations of our deepest fears and desires. The Queen of the Night. The Grand Inquisitor. The Animal Tamer. The Vixen. Bluebeard and his wives. The androgynous pageboy. The lover in disguise.

One old nightmare of ours seems to be coming true at the moment: Mother Nature is turning on us. Mythology is colliding with reality; it's like all the ancient gods are taking revenge on the human race. Nature, which has always been "the unchangeable," is undergoing a terrible change — at our hands.

Second Nature  is set after the fall of nature. Humankind has found itself in a negative Eden: this time, we're stuck in a virtual "garden" of our own creation. We don't want to deal with big bad Nature anymore. It'll take a couple of kids — born in this bland synthetic world-who have the right blend of innocence, openness and daring to bite the fruit and explore a new world. Actually, those are just the qualities you need to listen to opera...

In partnership with

Major support provided by the Nancy W. Knowles Student and Family Performances fund. Second Nature and Opera in the Neighborhoods are supported by Lead Sponsor J. Christopher and Anne N. Reyes and cosponsors two Anonymous DonorsJoyce E. ChelbergDover FoundationBrent and Katie GledhillGoldman SachsMr. and Mrs. Eric L. HirschfieldKenneth R. Norgan, the Donna Van Eekeren FoundationMarilyn D. Ezri, M.D., the Walter Family Foundation, and Wintrust Community Banks.