Last month we chatted with Paul Appleby, the up-and-coming tenor appearing in The Metropolitan Opera’s U.S. premiere of Two Boys. This contemporary piece by Nico Muhly recounts the troubling relationship between Brian and Jake, two teens who meet in an online chat room. When Jake is found murdered, detective Anne Strawson is assigned the case. As she investigates, the detective unearths a complicated web of intrigue, murder, sex and deceit — all carefully manipulated from the minds of two teenage boys.
If you’re expecting The Magic Flute, beware. Muhly’s haunting score echoes like the invisible data transmissions of the chat rooms themselves. The stark set, with video projections by 59 Productions, and choreography by Hofesh Shechter lend an other worldly feel to the production, as these elements weave their way in and out of the detective’s interrogation and Brian’s fantastical descriptions of the characters he’s met online.
While on a broad scale, Two Boys’ subject matter is timeless in the opera world: love, deceit and murder. But the 21st interpretation of these themes resonates on visceral level and sometimes feels awkwardly delivered through the medium of opera. (Hearing and seeing a classically trained tenor masturbate on the Met stage is one for the books.) That said, Bartlett Sher’s sensitive direction keeps the action grounded in reality and the production ultimately delivers a haunting, powerful message about the virtual world we live in.
The Met should be commended for commissioning what many will consider controversial material and putting it front and center. What did the critics have to say?…
“I wish I could say that “Two Boys” is that longed-for success. The score, rich with intriguing harmonies and textural intricacy, shimmers in Mr. Muhly’s vivid, subtle orchestration, especially as conducted by the impressive David Robertson… But having a compositional voice is not enough in the elusive form of musical drama that is opera. The score does not sufficiently penetrate the complex emotions and shocking interactions between the characters in this story, set in 2001.” The New York Times
“[Two Boys] is an assemblage of ill-fitting components, many of them very fine, others promising but neutralized by context. Muhly, a phenomenally talented 32-year-old composer, and Lucas, a veteran playwright, backed by the full faith and credit of the Metropolitan Opera, have produced a police procedural with an Internet angle and a lurid dénouement.” Vulture.com
“The opera plays like an episode of “Law & Order” with music, but the music, though ear-pleasingly tonal and accomplished, never makes a visceral connection. The libretto, by playwright Craig Lucas, is tight and swiftly paced; the online chat exchanges between Brian and Jake’s various avatars lend themselves to short text lines. Atmospheric orchestral music helps to build suspense and make Brian’s enchantment somewhat credible, but it works more like a film score, supporting the words and story, rather than creating its own world.” The Wall Street Journal