Cafe Brauer Credit: Chicago Park District

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I think Matthew Aucoin has written a lovely children’s opera.

I can’t be sure because Lyric Opera‘s Second Nature, which had its premier performance this morning at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Cafe Brauer, was seriously undermined by distorting acoustics in the domed, sky-lit second-floor event space where it was held.

A majority of Aucoin’s English lyrics were rendered incomprehensible, while voices in the upper register turned into sonic assaults.

The three-year-old in front of me covered his ears.

It’ll be good if he wasn’t ruined for opera forever.

It’s hard to understand how this problem wasn’t anticipated, but it did make for a neat if unintentional parallel to Second Nature‘s plot, in which two future-world youngsters are trapped in an artificial environment. While they were yearning to escape to the natural world, I found myself yearning to hear someone say, “Stop! Pick up your chairs. We’re moving to the terrace (or the patio or the lawn), where we’ll resume the performance and the sound will be so much better.”    

The kids in the future world escaped; the audience in Cafe Brauer (which included Lyric Opera creative consultant Renée Fleming) didn’t.

Aucoin conducted; the cast of five singers—there are parents, a nasty queen, and a friendly ape—and a trio of musicians soldiered through admirably. They all deserve a do-over, somewhere else.

Two additional public performances are scheduled at Cafe Brauer tomorrow (Thursday), along with an October 17 date in the works at Francis Parker School. That’s the one to catch.