Nico Muhly's Internet Opera: Two Boys

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Paul Appleby as Brian in Nico Muhly's <em>Two Boys</em>
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The 32-year-old composer Nico Muhly is a Juilliard-trained wunderkind who worked for Philip Glass for nearly a decade. He’s got a solid portfolio full of unpredictable work — his long roster of collaborators and clients includes the Choir of Jesus College, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, rock band Grizzly Bear, R&B artist Usher, and illustrator Maira Kalman. This eclecticism has landed Muhly with the rather predictable label of “indie composer.” And that bugs him. “Having an opera at the Met is literally the least independent thing you could do. It’s not indie.”

The Metropolitan Opera commissioned Two Boys six years ago, making Muhly the youngest composer to receive that honor. The opera is based a true story that made headlines in England. In 2003, two teenaged boys from Manchester engaged in an intense chat room drama that ended with the elder boy stabbing the younger — allegedly provoked by a chorus of chat room personae invented by the younger boy. “Essentially what happened is this little boy composed an opera, ” Muhly tells Kurt Andersen. “You have the damsel in distress, that’s the spinto soprano, you have the menacing bass baritone, you have the seductive contralto … I mean, the writing was basically already done.” Muhly’s opera (with libretto by Craig Lucas) shifts between that story and that of the police, who worked for years to untangle the crime.

The story unfolds in a time before Facebook and smartphones, and the lead investigator on the case is practically internet illiterate. But Muhly says his aim, and that of the opera, is to tell the timeless story of the human attempt to connect. “The technology is just a delivery system, but the motor of the thing is this fundamental loneliness that hasn’t changed. That will never change.”


Nico Muhly's 3 for 360

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