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BWW Reviews: TWO BOYS Conjoined by Internet Chat Rooms - Nico Muhly's New Opera Makes Its American Debut at the Met

It's not everyday that you watch the interconnectivity of two separate people communicating via Internet chat room. Let alone, how about five people's conversations over several weeks with an entire chorus of "chaters" behind them. It adds up to quite the stack of transcripts. The idea, while seeming passé, remains a relevant topic to discuss and bring forward on the Met's stage. The usually very formal performance space was filled with internet lingo such as PWOS, A/S/L, LOL, WTF, and any abbreviationyou could think of. Nico Muhly's "Two Boys" is a new and innovative work that has extremely dark overtones both in the production as well as the musical aspects of the piece. "Two Boys," with a libretto by Craig Lucas tells the story of a 16-year-old boy who is convinced by unknown people he has met through Internet chat rooms to attempt murder on his 13-year-old 'friend'.

Monday nights premiere for the commissioned work by the Met incorporates stunning projections and animations from 59 Productions that help to move the story forward. These projections do anything from defining location, to showing chat room conversations, to adding a dark and mysterious graphic representation of the internet during the chorus numbers throughout the production. These projections helped make this production what it wants to be and worked seamlessly with Michael Yeargan's scenic design.

The performers portrayed their given roles with great conviction as well. Dressed in modern clothing designed by Catherine Zuber and set in 2001, this too speaks to the difference in production in comparison to the typical Met production. The main character is the detective inspector Anne Strawson, sung by Alice Coote who is assigned to 16 year old Brian's, sung by Paul Appleby, case of stabbing a 13 year old, Jake. The determined detective dives in head first to solve this case, even to the point of ignoring her invalid mother at home. To add to the complexity of her situation, we find out that she also gave up her only child at birth and he would be the same age as Brian. Coote's rich mezzo-soprano voice paired perfectly with the character and added a wonderful musical layer of depth to the already dark story.

Paul Appleby, tenor, gave a stirring performance as Brian and did well to draw you into his character while not quite knowing how to feel about the things he has done. The ambiguous charges against him are well masked within the intricacies of the plot and leave a lot of unknowns hidden within the deception of the internet chat room.

The story picks up when Brian gets a private message from Rebecca, a over the top flirtatious teen, sung by Jennifer Zetlan, who wants to get to know Brian better. The two continue to share secrets and stories for days in which Brian finds out about her families deranged gardener, Peter (Keith Miller), her mom's best friend and private assassin, Fiona (Sandra Piques Eddy), and her genius younger brother, Jake (Christopher Bolduc). We later find out this younger brother is not who he was portraying himself to be online but rather a reticent young geek, sung by boy soprano Andrew Pulver, who was trying to appear more grown up through his online profile. Adding to the intensity of the situation, this same boy is the boy who Brian is driven to stab by repeated offers from Fiona for a sizable payment.

Each of the singers took on their roles with stunning vocals and extremely accurate characterization. We were drawn to who we were suppose to and reticent of who we were suppose to be...for the time being. This all changes dramatically when the entire plot takes a drastic shift in the end of Act II when Anne actually solves the case and we know the true story behind all of the cyber relationships Brian has developed with all of these characters we have been introduced to.

Mr. Muhly has created a tightly woven web of deceit and drama within his newly commissioned work that is quite beautifully portrayed in this new production. Being the youngest composer to ever be commission by the Met, his work has a true sense of self within the writing. He says that "Two Boys" follows the style of Benjamin Britten, which is neither strikingly dissonant nor confined to symmetrical melody. This is a perfect way of describing the music of "Two Boys." The various worlds throughout the opera are clearly defined and separated from one another through the musical style choices which helps drive the varied plot lines forward. No matter the world we are in throughout the production, the orchestra, conducted by David Robertson, adds a strong and eerie sense of the unknown over the action onstage which leaves the audience wanting more while simultaneously pushing back from the story we just experienced. This is the perfect combination for such a production.

"Two Boys" continues performances through November 14 at the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center. Be sure not to miss this wonderfully new production by Nico Muhly.

Photo Credits: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera and Matthew Murphy

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From This Author Scott Frost

Scott Frost is a Production and Stage Manager and a Freelance Costume Designer. In addition to being a theatrical manager and designer he currently works (read more...)