Tangled Web: Internet-Based Opera to Open at Met

Friday, October 18, 2013 - 04:00 PM

Nico Muhly, composer Nico Muhly, composer (Matthew Murphy)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Little did Nico Muhly know when he composed Two Boys that the type of Internet deception he based the opera on would keep repeating over and over.

So when reports surfaced last winter that Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a nonexistent woman, Muhly took notice.

"I was so happy," he said, "in a perverse way."

Then he explained how the Web had created such a tangled web.

"It wasn't just some sort of man and girl in the suburbs. So that to me was very satisfying," he added with a laugh, going on to cite the case of a physicist duped into smuggling cocaine while believing he was courting a bikini model.

"It happens to random people, to famous people, to really smart people, to educated people, to uneducated people. There's a real kind of egalitarian nature to deceit, you know what I mean?"

The work by the 32-year-old New Yorker receives its North American premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night, a fictionalized account of a British teenager who used the Internet in an attempt to arrange his own murder in 2003. The first composition to reach the Met stage from the company's 7-year-old commissioning program with Lincoln Center Theater, Two Boys has been revised since its world premiere two years ago at the English National Opera.

Starring mezzo-soprano Alice Coote as Detective Anne Strawson and tenor Paul Appleby as Brian, a 16-year-old accused in the stabbing of a 13-year-old named Jake, Two Boys is a starkly contemporary piece.

Met General Manager Peter Gelb said the adult themes ruled out the opera from inclusion in the company's high-definition theater simulcasts.

"It's full of such darkness, such personally really upsetting things that I have to witness that, yeah, I feel very tired," Coote said. "There's a lot of sexual and emotional abuse going on in this piece."

Gelb first became aware of Muhly when he was an executive at Sony. They started talking soon after Muhly was a pianist for a workshop of what became Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna.

Muhly wrote the opera with librettist Craig Lucas in a method Mozart, Verdi and Wagner would be unfamiliar with. When he had drafts of music ready, he would email them to Lucas as PDF files. Muhly composes at home and on the road - and on Amtrak trains.

"The cafe car is the best," he said. "I find out in advance where it's going to be and then wait by the staircase in Penn Station."

Reviews at the original run were lukewarm. Rupert Christiansen wrote in The Telegraph that it was "a bit of a bore - dreary and earnest rather than moving and gripping, and smartly derivative rather than distinctively individual. Yet I wish that I could have heard it again before passing judgment."

Since the London premiere, they've switched the beginnings of the two acts to make the work more linear, created more of a backstory to the detective, added about 1 1/2 minutes of music, inserted dancing to the online chat room choruses and made minor changes to the orchestration,

"I think most operas after their first performance get revised, since the beginning of time," Muhly said. "And others go through a period of heavy, heavy revision, and then you realize the first instance was right."

Gelb has instituted a commitment to contemporary operas at the Met since he took over as general manager in 2006, presenting the company premieres of John Adams' Nixon in China, Thomas Ades' The Tempest and Philip Glass' Satyagraha. Trying to fill its 3,800 seats, the Met has put up posters in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, erected signs in New York City subways and advertised on MTV's "Catfish: The TV Show," a reality program about Manti Te'o-style trickery in online dating.

"In general a piece that is completely unfamiliar to the audience is harder to sell, obviously, than a piece that is familiar," Gelb said.

For all the modern technology, Appleby says the emotions of the story are familiar. He compares it to plays of Shakespeare and the French dramatist Cyrano de Bergerac.

"A very, old traditional story about people trying to reach out and looking, longing for a connection or longing for love and not feeling comfortable expressing themselves," he called it.

Everyone involved describes Two Boys as troubling.

"This is written in such a way that it almost expresses the disjointedness of daily life that we all live," Coote said. "What has become of us as humanity when we're so dominated now by the Internet, by technology, as our lives are quite a lot of the time being lived within those realms?"



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Comments [8]

Silversalty from Brooklyn

Not sure where to post this since there's no open input area. This thread seems as apt as any.


The video in the link is something of a Sennheiser ad - Oh my, gee whiz tech - but the article is interesting. It's about a novel, if not generally applicable, presentation of opera.

Re, whatever:

I think some should check out recent disclosures of paid political astro-turfing. Professional trolls spewing out ditto-head lines and outright DFH lies.


Oh, what the hey -

Oct. 22 2013 12:19 PM

MAK thanks for the SPELL CHECK, aren't some of us wonderful.
FYI Ms. "kind lady" when you accused me from living in a "Bigoted Backwater" you knew NOTHING of me, especially that in 1973 when MOST Upper West Side/ New York area liberals were throwing toilet paper and rotted tomatoes on returning troops, I was in Saigon fighting for my country and arranging to bring back a 9 year old Vietnamese orphan, born from a local mother and black soldier. I adopted, and educated him in my "bigoted backwater 60 acre home" today he is aSenior Electronics Engineer, in California,before you throw the word "bigoted" around,know from where you speak.
I recall a line in a 1960's folk song by Phil Oach's about his dislike of self righteous "liberals'. It went (I'll send all the money you ask for, just don't ask me to march on along, so love me, love me love me, I'm a liberal.)
Next time you try to call someone a bigot or racist ( the ultimate fallback position of the uninformed liberal )please know who you are addressing.
A quick check on the Metropolitan Opera web site showed that in all but tomorrows opening of "Two Boys" 30% or more of the seats at the Met remain unsold, and in Family Circle, and Balcony the sales don't even come close at this time of filling half the seats for week night performances.
How long will it take for Mr. Gelb to realize that he is not running an experimental theatre, and should focus on Opera's that will fill seats, and let smaller venues provide the arenas for new Operatic works until they are popular enough to fill a major house like the Met.
The Met has a very high debt, if it continues, especially after the financial disaster of last years Ring Cycle, it may not be long before the Met board has to look into their endowment for production financing, they have little else but the golden curtain to pawn now. With decreasing subscription sales, and box office sales they are relying more and more on Live HD to bridge their production loses, but eventually these Live HD performances will begin to cannibalize the audience and one will see an even greater fall off in box office ticket sales.
I wonder how much longer the wonderfully generous families who commit millions of their dollars to underwrite productions will continue to finance productions that are more oriented to the movie camera than the true Opera Lover in The Family Circle seats.
It is already well known that during performances that are being recorded for HD and later DVD release many of the major performers are utilizing "voice enhancement technology", otherwise known as voice amplification. This was frequently done at the now defunct New York City Opera, and is something that no true Opera lover and enthusiast will put up with.
It is time for a change at the top at The Met before it finds itself in dire financial crisis it may not be able to extricate itself from.
High tech is NOT the ultimate answer for traditional Opera. Charles Fischbein

Oct. 20 2013 06:27 PM

Hercule Cyrano de Bergerac was a French dramatist.(1619-1655.) There were several fictional accounts of his life including the play by Rostand. I am not sure whom the author was referring to... Also-it is Richard BONYNGE.

Oct. 20 2013 04:51 PM
catherine dominique from Ireland

Cyrano de Bergerac a french Dramatist ???? :-)) Would not it be Edmond Rostand by any chance ? :-)Just asking here:-)) I would not want to make ppl who pretend to have culture look like ...em...(find the adjective yourself :-))
Thanks for the good laugh anyhow.

Oct. 20 2013 04:03 PM

Dear Susan, I guess the WQXR Copy Editor was off the day this was posted. I have seen a number of the WQXR regular contributors post incorrect information as well as self serving information. When I was writing my nationally distributed columns on Capital Hill in the 1980's my copy editor would call my desk five or six times for every article he was going over for clarifications and to check facts on reported data. As I mentioned I see a number of self serving paragraphs in some regular contributors posts also.
Take for instance the last post of Fred Plotkin on Richard Boynage, where he ends by saying " I also pointed out how precious and rare are his gifts and encouraged opera companies and educational institutions to secure his services"
I am quite sure that due to this reference in Mr. Plotkins column, Mr. Boynage received many more requests for his services, come on now, Fred, Richard Boynage does not need you as an agent as he is one of the best known and beloved classical music figures in the world. A little too much Chianti possibly went to Mr. Plotkins head and made it a little larger than it is already.?? A little humility Fred, goes a long way. God Speed, Charles Fischebin, back home for New York City.

Oct. 20 2013 01:03 PM
susan o'meara

Cyrano de Bergerac was a dramatist?????

Oct. 20 2013 06:56 AM

Dear Mark, I am sure you will be able to see Two Boy's at the Met. Just look online and see the vast number of unsold seats available. While Mr. Gelb may have an affinity towards producing modern pieces of work, he also has an obligation to The metropolitan Opera Board of Directors, as well as the Opera community in New York City and throughout the world, who look at the Met as one of the premier opera houses in the world, not to produce box office flops.
While box office ticket sales are not by any means the Met's sole source of income when one produces works that barely fill half the house through their run, it is of no help to anyone. I could see this being performed in the smallest venue at The Kennedy Center where new work's frequently show up, but at a 3800 to 4000 thousand seat house with enormous overhead it seems like bad business to me.
In an era when orchestras and Opera Companies are failing one must be forced to look at the economics of every production.
I do not say Two Boy's should not be performed, but there are much smaller venues in New York City that could accommodate the staging, orchestra and small audience, and would not drain the resources of the Met, which are already strained.
Let's not forget that Mr. Gelb has already virtually pawned the Chigals in the lobby, taking a secured loan on them, yes the board did agree to this but a half empty house will do little to pay off the interest on the pawn ticket. God Speed, Charles Fischbein
sent on my android device

Oct. 19 2013 03:53 PM
Mark Greenfest

Nico Muhly, whether or not his large endeavors, like operas, are a total success or not, has a real commitment to composition, likes melody and color and postminimalist craft, has a real affinity to early music and has studied its craft, and likes to take chances. I've watched Nico since he was a freshman at Julliard, and he keeps growing as an artist. I hope I get a chance to see this work performed at the Met....

Oct. 19 2013 01:26 PM

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