Theatre Journal, 68.1
Two days before the new opera Crossing had its first performance at the Citi Shubert theatre in Boston, The New York Times published a piece entitled “Matthew Aucoin, Opera’s Great 25-Year-Old Hope.” The article, which introduced Crossing’s composer to Times readers, emphasized Aucoin’s abilities as a musician, conductor, and composer, but it stressed above all Aucoin’s age. Crossing’s audience was abuzz with talk of this Times article, and a sense of youthful audacity, the feeling that we were witnessing something novel – even rebellious – pervaded the performance of Crossing. The new opera, with music and libretto by Aucoin, is a musical inquiry into the legacy of the American poet Walt Whitman; its subject matter is concerned also with temporalities, the distance between the past and the present, and the relevance of Whitman to generations that followed him. Because Crossing was also a part of the American Repertory Theater’s contribution to the National Civil War Project, a multi-year, multi-city collaboration between theatres across the country that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, the opera also attempts to situate the ongoing effects of that conflict in our lives.
Crossing addresses precisely this distance, opening with Walt Whitman (Rod Gilfry) singing directly to the Bostonian audience in his beautiful Baritone; “What is it, then, between us?” In this way, Aucoin’s libretto firmly situates Whitman in his own time period and performs the evening’s first crossing – a query about both the relationship between audience and poet as well as the relationship between the present-day United States and our complex, war-torn past. Based on diaries that Whitman kept at a Union hospital near the end of the war, Crossing finds the poet nursing and caring for wounded soldiers in a forgotten building that might be The soldiers have lost hope, but Whitman provides what care he can: listening to the men, encouraging them, writing their letters.