Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

40 minutes with Barbara Hannigan...in rehearsal

One of the initiatives for the community at the Lucerne Festival is the ‘40 min’ series. A free concert given before the evening’s main event that ranges from chamber music to orchestral rehearsals.

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alice Coote as Anne Strawson and Paul Appleby as Brian [Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]
02 Nov 2013

Two Boys at the Brave New Met

Whatever you think of some of the Metropolitan Opera’s recent productions, you cannot fault the Gelb administration for fearing to take risks.

Two Boys at the Brave New Met

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Alice Coote as Anne Strawson and Paul Appleby as Brian

Photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

 

Along with controversial new productions of pre 20th century works, the company recently performed John Adams’ Dr. Atomic, Thomas Adès’ The Tempest and this season it is presenting its first commissioned opera, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys.

And you can’t have had the most casual relationship with opera without having heard or read about the Muhly work. In fact, you needn’t have had any idea that opera even exists as an art form, to have heard about it. Its libretto, based on an incident of Internet deception which took place in Manchester, England, had a Page One murky resonance recently for Americans in the romantic hoax perpetrated on San Diego Chargers’ linebacker Manti Te’o. To attract the young, hip and internet knowledgeable to the premiere, the Met advertised in real and virtual nooks and crannies of New York that had never seen opera ads, previews or posters before.

Two Boys is the first fruit of the Met/Lincoln Center Theater New Works Program, a commissioning project instituted in 2006 in which composers are paired with librettists, and eventually directors and designers, to develop new works for the two theaters. It’s a long, laborious process, which includes repeated workshops. For his first full length opera, Muhly was paired with a veteran writer Craig Lucas and producer Bartlett Sher. Yet even Two Boys’, world premier at the English National Opera in 2011, turned out to be a workshop. Since then the three have made numerous revisions of the libretto, music and staging. Fortunately the black clad spiky haired Muhly, now 32, and a prolific composer of classical works, as well as of pop, and movie music, is cooperatively inclined. “I’m so happy to change stuff “ he is quoted as saying, “I think most operas after their first performance get revised, since the beginning of time."

The libretto of Two Boys is presented as a police drama taking place in an industrial British city. Black and white cam tapes reveal 16 year old Brian, stabbing 13 year old Jake, and leaving him for dead. The task of unraveling how and why this happened is left to Anne Strawson, an oddly dense career detective, who strangely knows nothing about computers, and who is responsible for her mother’s care. It is a chance remark by her mother, which eventually leads her to understand the dimensions of the crime. Eventually, Strawson gets Brian to reveal an almost unbelievable story of the various people he met through a chat room, who led him to commit the crime. First there is Rebecca, then her brother, Jake, Fiona, their mother’s friend and a secret agent, the sinister gardener named Peter, all of whom drive him to the crime. They turn out to be the names of real people, recreated as inventions by the 13 year-old victim, the real Jake, who has engineered his own death.

The gist of the opera is in the manner in which these scenes unfold to reveal the characters’ backgrounds, as well as their real and imaginary encounters. “I go to school, I do my homework, I eat supper,” Brian tells Strawson as we follow his first tentative approach to a chat room, and his increasingly enticing, entangling, relationships with young Rebecca, seductive Fiona, frightening Peter, and finally with Jake himself. In Strawson’s first scene with her mother, we see her mother nag her about neglecting her appearance, and learn that in order to pursue her career, she had given up an infant son, who would now be Brian’s age.

Two Boys, with worried looking Strawson, conniving Jake, befuddled Brian, and an anonymous horde of chat room cohorts seeking they know not what of the Internet, is a dark tale with an undercurrent of delirium. Bartlett Sher’s production and Nico Muhly’s music capture its moods perfectly. Grayish blank panels shift from Strawson’s home to Brian’s, to Jake’s hospital room, with the silent rapidity of movie or television screens -and alternately serve as projection screens for wildly repetitive iterations of chat room dialogue. Textual representations and droning choral repetitions of fragments of internet “speech” such as “r u there?” appear repeatedly and fade, in flashing sometimes ominous animations created by 59 Productions. Muhly’s intriguing rhythmic orchestral patterns and striking harmonies, underline the delirium of the chatters’ amorphous yearnings. Costumes are drab and dull except for those imaginary characters, who seem real to Brian. Hofesh Shechter’s choreography of the chat room scenes illuminates the dull lives of the participants and the lurid possibilities offered by the Internet, as twisting, writhing dancers, perhaps portending evil, weave in out of the ranks of the massed “chatters’’.

In a brilliantly contrasting scene, ominous darkness gives way to peace as a stained glass window glows quietly in an Anglican Church. Here as the congregants sing and Brian comes face to face with the real Jake for the first time, Muhly’s music glows as well, with a kind of peace and limpidity. “Music of the English Renaissance and Tudor Music has been a cantus firmus through everything I do, not just musically, but also as a sort of philosophy of how to make music and think of yourself as a composer,” Muhly said in an interview.

BOYS_7371a.gifSandra Piques Eddy as Fiona and Andrew Pulver as the Boy soprano

Muhly’s large, imaginative musical palette includes pacing of vocal lines to understandable natural speech, and remarkable choral music. "Shimmering" is the word one most often encounters in reviews of Muhly’s chorales. There is a kind of dry Britten-like lyricism in his melodic writing, particularly in Strawson’s concluding aria, and intermittent patches of minimalism throughout the work, which Muhly’s mentor, Philip Glass, prefers to call "repetitively structured" music.

The Met gave us an excellent cast. Mezzo-soprano, Alice Coote, who made a moving Anne Strawson, Paul Appleby, a youthful 30 year old tenor, whose acting and singing were convincing as 16 year old Brian, and Andrew Pulver, an 11 year old boy soprano, coolly in command of his role as Jake. Their supporting cast was equally memorable.

Nico Muhly has written a potentially haunting opera — yet one that does not haunt enough — that neither seeks, nor achieves a climax, and whose passionless protagonists accede too easily to death and loss and pain.

One wonders whether Muhly or librettist Craig Lucas knew their characters well enough to understand the powerful emotions that drove two children to suicide and murder, and trapped a young police woman responsible for the care of a nagging mother without any visible disabilities, into a life of sexual and emotional repression.

Nevertheless, Two Boys gives reason to believe that Nico Muhly’s next opera — it has already been commissioned by the Met — will haunt viewers long after its last curtain drops.

And yes, however the Met did it, the audience at the opera’s second performance, which I attended, was young, hip and enthusiastic, particularly when the beaming composer appeared to acknowledge its cheers.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and production information:

Brian: Paul Appleby; Anne Strawson:Alice Coote; Cynthia, Jake’s mother: Caitlin Lynch; Rebecca: Jennifer Zetlan; Brian’s mother: Maria Zifchak; 13 year old Jake: Andrew Pulver; Anne’s Mum: Judith Forst; Fiona: Sandra Piques Eddy; Jake: Christopher Bolduc; Peter: Keith Miller. Conductor: David Richardson. Production: Bartlett Sher. Set Designer: Michael Yeargan. Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber. Lighting Designer: Donald Holder. Animation: 59 Productions. Choreographer: Hofesh Shechter.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):