Muhly's edgy "Two Boys" opera gets London premiere

Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:43am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - If the film "The Social Network" lifted the veil on the ingenuity and intrigue behind Internet networking, the opera "Two Boys" which had its premiere on Friday focuses on what it's like to be trapped inside the web.

Over the span of 110 minutes, American composer Nico Muhly and librettist Craig Lucas take the audience and the main character, detective Anne Strawson, sung by English soprano Susan Bickley, on a journey from her office where she is trying to understand the seemingly senseless attempted murder of one teenage boy by another, to the darkest corners of the Internet.

Single, a technophobe and living with her aged mother, Bickley's character discovers by the end that in life, as well as on the web, people "want to be loved."

She also finds out that no one is who he or she seems to be, and that life is a masquerade -- one of opera's oldest ploys.

The production is up-to-the-minute Internet-friendly, with video projections that portray the web as twisting, interlinked strands of light, a chorus of chattering Internet voices and the whole mounted on a set that wouldn't look out of place in a Hollywood film "noir."

"There is always some sense -- not here, not here," Bickley, baffled by the stabbing, sings shortly after the opera, a highly publicized co-production of the English National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, opens in a moody minor key.

The initial theme is a four-note riff that crops up again and again and might be a signature tune for a computer booting up or connecting to the Internet.

And what a disaster awaits poor, 16-year-old Brian, a hard-working but dull student, sung superbly by the young Scottish tenor Nicky Spence. Using the web identity "A_Game," when he logs on in his bedroom for his nightly web surfing he stumbles across the girl of his dreams, who says her name is Rebecca (soprano Mary Bevan) and uses the alias "Mindful_16."   Continued...