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October 22, 2013 5:09 pm
Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, which had its US premiere on Monday, is morbid, sordid and foolish. It probably was all this when first performed at English National Opera 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, c.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. Alice Coote brought intense sympathy to the miserable musings of the central detective while Judith Forst simpered nicely as her mum. Paul Appleby suffered almost nobly as the misunderstood quasi-hero. Jennifer Zetlan exuded faux-innocence as his would-be love, and 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.
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