Metropolitan Opera, New York
Nico Muhly's Two Boys, which had its U.S. premiere on Monday, is morbid,
sordid and foolish. It probably was all this when first performed at the ENO
in 2011, but the composer and his stellar librettist, Craig Lucas, have
reportedly reworked -- and lengthened -- their soapy opera in the interim.
The Met managed to look full for this would-be festive occasion, though lots
of customers paid less -- much less -- than full price. Novelty, even timid,
artificially sweetened novelty, still frightens the regular patrons. The
company website, not incidentally, posted a warning: "This opera takes place
in online chatrooms. As a result, the libretto contains some profanities,
sexually explicit language, and adult content." So much for local
sensitivities and sensibilities.
Muhly and Lucas intended to explore the corrosive impact of the internet on
life in industrial Britain, ca. 2000. In the process they dabbled in vicious
murder, who-done-it ritual, erotic misadventure and ghostly intervention.
The result, alas, resembles a mishmash of pretentious technobabble and
melodramatic piffle. The score, though neatly constructed, concentrates for
the most part on vocal chatter and terse arioso, punctuated by portentous
rumbling and percussive bleating.
At least Two Boys looked better than it sounded (apart from Hofesh
Shechter's risibly writhing dance-routines). Bartlett Sher, the director,
and Michael Yeargan, his trusty designer, created a flexible frame for the
action, playing properly loose with time, place and space. They also made
telling use of video projections, sometimes turning the multi-level stage
into a crazed email centre.
An impeccable cast, appreciatively conducted by David Robertson, sang as if
a masterpiece were at hand and lives at stake.
41> Alice Coote brought intense sympathy to the miserable musings of the
central detective while Judith Forst simpered nicely as her mum.
41> Paul Appleby suffered almost nobly as the misunderstood quasi-hero.
41> Jennifer Zetlan exuded faux-innocence as his would-be love, and
41> Sandra Piques Eddy luxuriated in seductive evil as her adversary. Young
Andrew Pulver personified deceptive purity as the sacrificial treble.
Still, when all was said, sung and sobbed, clichés held sway.
This was a serious production of a silly opera.
Bob Kosovsky, Ph.D. -- Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts,
Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
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--- My opinions do not necessarily represent those of my institutions ---