Nico Muhly's Marnie

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lennygoran
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Nico Muhly's Marnie

Post by lennygoran » Mon Nov 20, 2017 7:14 am

This is a discouraging review sent to me by an England friend-apparently it's coming here next season. Regards, Len

Nico Muhly's Marnie
Production: Michael Mayer
Margaret "Marnie" Edgar: Isabel Leonard
Co-production with the English National Opera

Here's the Richard Morrison review:

Only two stars:

Does the world need another opera in which an entirely male creative team attempt to dissect the mind of an “unhinged” woman? There are thousands already, a handful even psychologically perceptive — but the long, dreary new example premiered by English National Opera isn’t one of them.

In one way, however, Nico Muhly has composed the perfect music for a story about a sexually repressed kleptomaniac. His score has hardly a spark of discernible passion, but a barrelful of secondhand ideas mined from greater composers.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 film of Winston Graham’s novel may have had creaky plotting and creepy misogyny, but the screen crackled with sexual tension. Oh, for even a flicker of that here! I don’t blame the main singers — Daniel Okulitch as the mother-dominated businessman Mark Rutland and the excellent Sasha Cooke as Marnie, the compulsive thief on whom he inflicts a bizarre combination of blackmail, marriage and rape. No, the faults all stem from Muhly and his librettist, Nicholas Wright.

The latter provides a turgid plod through the tale, with the essential reason for Marnie’s trauma — a horrific childhood episode — flatly narrated at the end almost as an afterthought. Muhly then adds music that (despite sterling conducting from Martyn Brabbins) strikes me as crudely orchestrated and almost perversely untheatrical.

I have no idea why, in a score otherwise full of Gershwinesque romantic harmonies and pinging minimalist textures reminiscent of early John Adams, Marnie’s interior thoughts are expressed by four women “shadows” singing a kind of strangled Renaissance polyphony. Nor why Muhly thought it a good idea to recall an infinitely better opera — Britten’s Peter Grimes — by intercutting an Anglican hymn into the denouement. It’s lucky there are singers as characterful as Lesley Garrett and Alasdair Elliott around to inject some vim into sketchily written cameos.

At least we can enjoy stylish period costumes from Arianne Phillips and a set (Julian Crouch and 59 Productions) that mirrors Marnie’s elusive nature with shifting screens and fractured projections. That allows the director, Michael Mayer, to opt for cinematic dissolves between scenes, but even this fluidic treatment has its baffling aspects. Why the unexplained male dancers slinking around dressed as gangsters? They look as if they belong in Guys and Dolls, not 1950s Barnet.

The bar for new operas in English has been set very high by such gripping pieces as Brett Dean’s Hamlet, Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel and George Benjamin’s Written on Skin. Marnie is leagues below.

John F
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Re: Nico Muhly's Marnie

Post by John F » Mon Nov 20, 2017 9:02 am

The first sentence makes me think that Morrison was prejudiced against this opera before he saw it. And to blame a composer for being male and writing operas with major women characters is plainly sexist. Whatever, I'll be curious enough to hear "Marnie" when it comes here. Muhly's other Met opera, "Two Boys," is not as barren as Morrison says "Marnie" is - not a masterpiece, but then hardly any new music is, even if it was new in the 18th century. :)

Making operas out of movies looks like a trend, what with "The Exterminating Angel." Broadway has been making musicals out of movies for quite a while; I learned today that "The Lion King" opened in 1997, and it wasn't the first. Used to be they made movies out of Broadway musicals, but not so much now.
John Francis

lennygoran
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Re: Nico Muhly's Marnie

Post by lennygoran » Mon Nov 20, 2017 11:25 am

John F wrote:
Mon Nov 20, 2017 9:02 am
>Whatever, I'll be curious enough to hear "Marnie" when it comes here. Muhly's other Met opera, "Two Boys," is not as barren as Morrison says ...Making operas out of movies looks like a trend, what with "The Exterminating Angel." Broadway has been making musicals out of movies for quite a while; I learned today that "The Lion King" opened in 1997, and it wasn't the first. Used to be they made movies out of Broadway musicals, but not so much now.
John thanks-we passed on Two Boys but may give Marnie a shot-we'll have to see. On the Lion King just last week PBS Thirteen Arts interviewed Julie Taymor. Regards, Len

http://www.thirteen.org/programs/nyc-ar ... or-gkwww2/

lennygoran
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Re: Nico Muhly's Marnie

Post by lennygoran » Tue Nov 21, 2017 7:48 am

Now the NY Times has weighed in on the opera. Regards, Len

Review: Nico Muhly’s ‘Marnie’ Brings Hitchcock Into the 21st Century

By ZACHARY WOOLFE NOV. 19, 2017


LONDON — How are we, late in 2017, to solve a problem like “Marnie”?

The story — a traumatized girl grows into a sexually frigid, kleptomaniac, compulsively identity-shifting young woman, saved by psychoanalysis and the patient love of a wealthy man — has been told in Winston Graham’s 1961 novel, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 film and now Nico Muhly’s new opera, which had its premiere at English National Opera here on Saturday. (The work comes to the Metropolitan Opera, which commissioned it and co-produced Michael Mayer’s staging, next season.)

Fascinating and repellent, the tale gets no easier to take with time. Particularly now we know that Hitchcock lusted after and terrorized Tippi Hedren, the film’s star. And that the director may well have been enacting his own fantasies with the plot — in which Marnie, among other humiliations, is raped by her husband on their honeymoon.

It seems, in these troubled months after the Harvey Weinstein revelations, not pathologically frigid but, well, pretty normal for a woman not to want to be assaulted. “He’ll never touch me,” the opera’s Marnie sings, with sober resolve. “Not a nuzzle, not a grope, not a grab.” We in the audience are put in the strange position of cheering that sentiment, even as the story tells us she desperately needs therapy for expressing it.

And sure, Marnie steals, but what does this woman, who changes names and jobs every few months, represent more than our gig economy on steroids? Now that her so-called vices feel less abnormal than they must have in the 1960s, making drama of her is more difficult.


To do so in opera would have required an antiheroine who was part Debussy’s ambiguous, ambivalent Mélisande — whose first words, to the man who will become her husband, are “Don’t touch me” — and part the imperious Emilia Marty in Janacek’s “Makropulos Case,” who keeps trading identities to elude shadowy pursuers.

If Marnie never comes theatrically to life like those two very different women, it may be because Debussy and Janacek’s works are true music dramas, in which the characters develop and the plots advance through the music, not parallel to it. “Marnie,” with a libretto by the dramatist Nicholas Wright, too often feels like a play with noirish underscoring. The music isn’t unrelated to what’s happening on stage, but it feels supplementary rather than integral — decoration and mood setting rather than buttress.


The storytelling is notably clearer in this new piece than in Mr. Muhly’s last opera, “Two Boys,” which had its premiere at English National Opera in 2011 and played at the Met in 2013. That work struggled to contain its too-crazy-for-fiction true-crime story in an invented police-procedural frame.

“Marnie” is more streamlined and straightforward, its pacing more assured and its characters more focused. The particulars of the plot are never in doubt; Mr. Mayer’s production, with its candy-colored midcentury dresses and shifting panels, moves smoothly and stylishly. In the title role, the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke sings with both warmth and a barely concealed backbone of steel, and projects ruefulness and the tiniest touch of humor.


But the fundamental problem of “Two Boys” is that of “Marnie,” too: a sense that atmosphere reigns over drama. Mr. Muhly’s style is inherently restive — it’s all unsettled motion, shot through with tender exhalations — but the sound world is so hyper-polished and unvarying that the restlessness feels paradoxically static.

In a program note, Mr. Muhly speaks to the musical and emotional layers of his score, writing of one scene that Marnie “can sing the business-casual phrases required of her, chipper and practical, whereas in the pit, the solo oboe shows us that she is already trying to find a way out of that room as quickly as possible.” This is doubtless all there, but those contrasts barely register for the listener, who hears mostly bland declamation, with pretty moodiness simmering below. Tension is telegraphed by a pristine mixture of yawning low instruments and eerie high glistening.

This kind of prettiness might work in a three-minute song setting or a nine-minute concerto movement. But over two acts and 140 minutes, you sorely feel the lack of variety.

“Marnie” does have moments of suggestive idiosyncrasy. A jagged violin solo as Marnie waits for her icy mother to come into the room is an economical evocation of a broken relationship and broken mind. An interlude of sour flutes captures just the way she feels about her husband’s lecherous brother.

It makes sense that Mr. Muhly, whose great passion is for the English church vocal tradition, gives Marnie a quartet of “shadows,” female singers who surround and sometimes echo her in the cool, vibratoless mode of a Renaissance madrigal. It’s weird and memorable and only Mr. Muhly would have — could have — done it.

But an earthshaking early chorus that tries to establish the high stakes of Marnie’s endless escapes sounds like it’s wandered in from the Verdi Requiem. “Justice cannot be avoided,” the singers scream. “When will discovery come?” Calm down, you want to shout back.

Marnie has some aria-type monologues, but there is little opportunity for Ms. Cooke to depict the gap between reality and her character’s self-understanding. One of the page-turning pleasures of the novel is how we see Marnie growing closer to her husband, Mark Rutland, before she does; in the opera their relationship never seems to deepen. The bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch, as Mark, sings robustly but is a cipher, leaving Marnie without a real foil.



But that may be intentional: There appears to be little desire on the part of the creators for the opera’s Mark to be the strange Svengali-Pygmalion figure — part hero, part villain, part weak, part strong — he is in the novel and film. Marnie doesn’t need him when her latest reinvention is for our age of self-empowerment and self-actualization.

“I’ll be there for myself,” she sings at the very end, when Mark asks if she’ll be there for him after, we presume, her stint in prison. “That’s all I know for now.”

This new identity — 21st-century gal — is Marnie’s least convincing.



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/19/arts ... collection

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