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News - Two Boys Reviews
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
English National Opera
’s new production of
has received glowing praise from critics after its world premiere on June 24. Some highlights from the UK press can be found below.
…there is much to admire in the score. The orchestra...is used in post-minimalist fashion. It doesn’t move with a mechanical pulse, but scales, arpeggios and repeated zigzagging figurations are its motor…solo vocal lines are fluent and expressive. The orchestration is imaginatively coloured. There are some shimmeringly ecstatic choruses, evoking the magic of the worldwide web…and a brief homage to the Anglican liturgy. It’s not hard to listen to.
The Daily Telegraph
…it concludes with one of Muhly’s shimmering, quasi-ritualistic choruses of cyberspace chatter, while the ingenious projections…beguilingly visualise the internet as a twinkling cosmological constellation. Muhly cloaks this seedy story in surprisingly lush harmonies and mostly string-saturated textures…there’s no denying the craftsmanship of the score.
...the aleatoric choral writing depict[s] the cyber-babble of the chatrooms; the multi-layered chorus with which the work ends; or some of the wonderfully voiced orchestral textures, such as the poignant string lines that underpin the aria in which Brian attempts to describe the importance of the internet in his life[,] that’s when the Muhly you recognise from previous orchestral and vocal works snaps into focus.
For those who believe opera should engage with contemporary issues, Muhly’s work, to a libretto by Craig Lucas, ticks most of the boxes…The orchestration is often imaginative and it’s true that the music harmonises well with the drama in all its multi-faceted fluidity.
The most surprising thing about Two Boys is the consonance and quiet sensuality of the score. Many words spring to mind: elegiac, mournful, poetic, melismatic - a digital age score without digitalisms, without electronics, actual or simulated, without amplification. And it's clear, so clear - but never clinical - in word and gesture and thought: a preposterous tale of intrigue and attempted murder (or is it?) born of false identities and fiction masquerading as fact. Opera was ever thus. But it's just gone viral.
Interestingly enough - and maybe this accounts for its very particular quality - its composer, Nico Muhly, and librettist, Craig Lucas (exactly twice Muhly's age), come to the world of cyberspace from different, and you might even say opposing, perspectives. For Lucas this is a mystical new frontier: he enters it as does his central character, Detective Inspector Anne Strawson (the excellent Susan Bickley in Prime Suspect mode) as one who must find his bearings. But for Muhly this is a world he plainly inhabits, a child of cyberspace, if you like, his music undulating and pulsing through a universe of connecting souls.
Bartlett Sher's beautiful staging conveys a sea of faces illuminated by open laptops but the collective voices are heard in churchy polyphonies, albeit "digitalised" through haunting, aleatoric-like overlappings and minglings. You can lose yourself in these choruses, just as you can lose yourself - or your identity - in cyberspace. Muhly's musical identity suggests a love-child of John Adams and Britten, a developing nose for drama (this is his first opera), a grateful understanding of voices, and gamelan gongs which in a nod to Britten's Death in Venice point up the other-worldly mystique of cyberspace - or as Craig Lucas would have it in his spare and lean and smart libretto "a netherworld of cheerless cheer". What a great line.
Sher's staging is wonderfully amorphous and yet effortlessly focused, the grey surfaces of Michael Yeargan's sliding towers and panels bathed in amazing cyber graphics from 59 Productions. And as real identities are chillingly revealed, how telling that it should be an innocent remark from the pre-internet generation - namely Detective Strawson's mother - that unlocks the mystery. That revelation brings Muhly's masterstroke and a final polyphony which unites us all in a desire not to go "unsung" from this world. This last five minutes alone make for an auspicious operatic debut.
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