“Chatting” about Two Boys

This fall the Met has featured many operas that many people call “typical”, such as NormaRigoletto, and Tosca on its stage. However, Two Boys is far from typical. It is like nothing the Met has ever done before.

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The story deals with, in fact, two boys (no, really?), one named Jake, age 13, and the other Brian, age 16. The opera deals with a murder mystery, a case assigned to Detective Anne Strawson, involving evidence posted on the internet through chat rooms, only it is difficult to know who is who in these chats. It is difficult, because Jake, at the tender age of 13, has several different personas that he uses to chat with Brian. There is Rebecca, a teenage girl/love interest around Brian’s age, the “Fake Jake”, or Brian’s imagination of who Jake would be, Peter, the “perv” gardner, Fiona, a friend of Jake’s who is responsible for telling Brian to kill Jake, eventually, and the real Jake eventually chats to Brian as himself. So why does Jake use all of these personas to chat with Brian? At first, Jake is interested in Brian for a relationship, but later on in the opera when the two boys meet each other in person, Brian rejects Jake’s love interest. After that, Jake twists the story and plans a murder plot…for himself. Through his personas, Jake tells Brian exactly where to get a knife and where to meet him and kill him, and Brian does exactly that, hence the first lines of the opera, “Help! Help! My friend has been stabbed!”

Nico Muhly, the composer of Two Boys, and Craig Lucas, the librettist, have something in common that no other opera composers and librettists have at the Met this year (unless you count Enchanted Island)…they are both still alive! When my mother rehearsed Two Boys on C-level and on the stage, Mr. Muhly would be listening intently, talk to orchestra members, and communicate with Maestro Robinson. Imagine if Mozart, Verdi, or Wagner could come back from the dead and do that today! My mother was even able to ask Mr. Muhly about a certain spot in the music, where the oboe was supposed to be playing in a certain way where the mouth surrounds the entire reed, or a shawm. My mother was able to play the passage a few times for Muhly, and he, (yes, the composer), was able to say “Yes, that is exactly what I want!”

Photo: Alice Coote and Paul Appleby in Two Boys

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When I walked into Two Boys, I was worried that it was going to be too modern and too eery for my taste, and that the music would sound like the work of some modern composers that I do not particularly like. I had nothing to worry about! When I first heard Two Boys I heard a lot of music that sounded like Wagner and Debussy, rather than random clinking and clonging. After the second time hearing the opera I was able to pick up on leitmotifs that follow characters around, such as the rhythmic ‘G’s on the timpani and low brass that follow Fiona around, or the chromatics that follow Anne Strawson’s mother around. The music was very interesting and indeed modern, yet I enjoyed listening to it!

The production by Bartlett Sher really caught the darkness and travesty that can occur on the internet. He used many projections of various prisms, shapes, lines, boxes, and other figures that we, as the audience, were supposed to interpret as the internet. Sher also used projections for the chat windows, where moving text could be seen line by line along with profile pictures, and even a video camera! The production also used dancers to express the randomness and complicated nature of the internet, and the chorus held laptops that produced light to glow on members’ faces. Overall, the production was very dark, except for the light of computers and projections, which captured the mysterious nature of the internet perfectly.

Photo: Act II of Two Boys, chatting between Fiona (Sandra Piques-Eddy) and Brian (Paul Appleby)

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The singing in Two Boys was magnificent. Alice Coote outdid herself as Anne Strawson. Her acting and her singing were amazing, in fact, if Two Boys ever comes back to the Met, I cannot imagine anyone else except Alice Coote singing that role! She became the detective! Paul Appleby played and sang a perfectly smug, stubborn sixteen-year old Brian. Jennifer Zetlan had a lovely lyric sound and some great high notes as Rebecca. Sandra Piques-Eddy was a very dark, evil Fiona, whenever she sang to Brian I was on the edge of my seat! Keith Miller sang a very evil Peter, in fact, he was so scary that when I told him that I was coming to see the show he said “Oh dear…”. The singing done by the chorus, and the orchestra under Maestro Robertson were also amazing! All of these roles must have been very difficult to memorize, because there are numerous short lines that characters sing when they are in “chat mode”, so bravi to everyone!

I thoroughly enjoyed Two Boys. When I first heard that this opera was coming to the Met, I honestly thought that it would be a piece that I would not like, and that I would first listen to on the radio to hear if I really would want to go see it. The complete opposite occurred. I saw it on Opening Night, and went back to see it again! Why did I like this opera so much? It felt so relatable to what I do as a teenager on the internet. First of all, I am on it all the time, just like Jake and Brian, and I love to use my blog, Twitter, and Facebook to chat with people, some I know better than others. Two Boys served as a reminder to me to be very careful on the internet, and remember that you never know who’s out there. As Fiona sang, “You don’t know me, but I know you. Choose your friends wisely”.