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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

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):