Nico Muhly's TWO BOYS to Make North American Premiere at the Met, 10/21
Nico Muhly, Two Boys, Metropolitan Opera
Nico Muhly's opera Two Boys will have its North American premiere at the Met October 21, in a production conducted by David Robertson and directed by Bartlett Sher. The two-act opera, which features a libretto by award-winning playwright Craig Lucas, is loosely based on true events and follows a lonely detective whose investigation of a seemingly simple crime draws her into a complex web of online intrigue. Alice Coote sings the role of Detective Inspector Anne Strawson and Paul Appleby sings Brian, the 16-year-old boy at the center of her investigations. Sher's staging, a co-production with English National Opera, premiered in London in 2011.
Two Boys, set in an English industrial city in 2001, combines two story elements rarely seen on the operatic stage: a police procedural, in which a detective follows clues to unravel the truth behind an act of senseless violence, and a dramatization of the mysterious and lonely lives of those who inhabit the dark corners of the Internet.
"What was so exciting for me about this story, and what was so poignant is that we don't live in a place where there are masked balls, really, anymore," Muhly said of his inspiration for the opera. "So I thought the Internet-where you can really pretend to be another person-would actually be quite a traditional frame for an opera. I'd like to think Two Boys is both new and also very, very old."
Vermont-born Muhly, 32, is the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Met, and Two Boys is his first large-scale opera. English critics praised Two Boys as an "auspicious operatic debut" (London Independent) featuring an "exciting new musical language" (Wall Street Journal), including six distinct choruses that evoke the world of the Internet.
"The choral music in Two Boys references the ecstatic vocal music of Meredith Monk and Steve Reich-the sense of overlapping vocal patterns creating a larger architecture of meaning," Muhly said. "It's almost as if you're hearing the entire aggregate of all the things that people are saying on the Internet at once."
Sher's production uses a team of gifted theatrical collaborators to dramatize both the appealing and menacing sides of the anonymous world of the Internet. The opera has two contrasting settings: one in the concrete physical world of the police station where the detective conducts her interrogations, and one in the more abstract world of online interaction where much of the drama unfolds.
"It's a space of the imagination and of projection, and it's a private, weird corner of your existence," Sher says of the set, a system of moving towers that double as projection surfaces. "We've created a layered space in which many, many things are happening at once, in the same way you can open every window in a house, or on a computer, and simultaneously feel like we are in many places all at the same time."
Two Boys features the talents of scenic designer Michael Yeargan, costume designer Catherine Zuber, and lighting designer Donald Holder, all of whom are both veterans of previous Met productions and Tony Award winners for their work on Broadway. The 59 Productions team, well-known for projects ranging from the Met's The Enchanted Island and Satyagraha to the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, will provide projections and animation designed to evoke the web of connections, missed and actual, that define our virtual lives. A new member of the creative team for Two Boys, added for the Met run, is the rising Israeli choreographer Hofesh Schechter in his company debut.
The new work originated in the Met/LCT New Works Program and was further developed through a series of workshops in New York and London, the most recent of which took place in fall 2012.
Muhly's chamber opera Dark Sisters, written during the same period as Two Boys, was commissioned by the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Music Theatre Group, and the Gotham Chamber Opera, and premiered in New York in the fall of 2012. He has composed a wide scope of work for ensembles, soloists, and organizations, including the American Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, countertenor Iestyn Davies, soprano Jessica Rivera, violinist Hilary Hahn, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, designer/illustrator Maira Kalman, Carnegie Hall, New York City Ballet, and Paris Opera Ballet. He is a graduate of Columbia University and The Juilliard School.
Muhly's other recent projects include the music for the current Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie and the score to the upcoming film Kill Your Darlings. His film credits include scores for Joshua (2007), Margaret (2009), and the Academy Award-nominatedThe Reader (2008), all of which have been recorded and released commercially. He has collaborated with a variety of artists, including Antony and the Johnsons, Björk, Bryce Dessner and Sufjan Stevens, Glen Hansard, Grizzly Bear, and Jónsi. Among Muhly's most frequent collaborators are his colleagues at Bedroom Community, an artist-run label headed by Icelandic musician Valgeir Sigurðsson; it launched in 2007 with the release of Muhly's first album, Speaks Volumes. In spring 2012, Bedroom Community released Muhly's three-part Drones & Music, in collaboration with pianist Bruce Brubaker, violinist Pekka Kuusisto, and violist Nadia Sirota.
Craig Lucas's plays include Prelude to a Kiss (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award), Missing Persons, Reckless, Blue Window, God's Heart, The Dying Gaul, Stranger, This Thing of Darkness, Small Tragedy, Prayer for My Enemy, The Singing Forest, and The Lying Lesson. He also wrote the books for the musicals The Light in the Piazza (Tony nomination), Three Postcards, and the Stephen Sondheim revue Marry Me a Little. He won a New York Film Critics' Circle award for his screenplay The Secret Lives of Dentists, an adaptation of Jane Smiley's novella The Age of Grief. His other screenplay credits include the 1989 film Longtime Companion and the film adaptations of his plays The Dying Gaul and Prelude to a Kiss.
David Robertson, the Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, has championed works by contemporary composers throughout his career. He made his Met debut in 1996 conducting the company premiere of Janá?ek's The Makropulos Case. He has also led Met performances of Bizet's Carmen, Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and Britten's Billy Budd. Last year, he conducted the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in a program of Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schoenberg.
Two Boys is the fifth opera Bartlett Sher has directed at the Met, where he has staged Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann, the company premiere of Rossini's Le Comte Ory, and last season's opening night new production of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore. He earned a Tony Award for directing South Pacific in 2008 and received Tony nominations for his Broadway productions ofGolden Boy, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Awake and Sing!, and The Light in the Piazza. Later this season, he will direct Jason Robert Brown's musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County on Broadway.