Let me state this as clearly and simply as I can: Nico Muhly's Two Boys, currently onstage at the Metropolitan Opera, will be remembered as a landmark event in the history of opera. Despite some nitpicky opinions to the contrary, Two Boys is a rich, relevant opera written on themes of our time, the first to truly address the ever-increasing percentage of our lives spent online. Which, for better or for worse, has become the real world for many of us—the place where we go to connect, to share, to dream. Even to find love.
Without giving too much away, Two Boys, set in the pre-Facebook days of the Internet, is about a 16-year-old English boy, Brian, who is catfished by Jake, 13. In a strange twist, Brian stabs Jake in a dark alley, becoming the subject of a police investigation at the hands of Detective Anne Strawson, who doesn't even own a computer, much less know how to navigate the Internet. Eventually, Anne is able unravel the mystery by reading through Brian's chats, which dredge up her own conflicted thoughts about motherhood.
Nico's music for Two Boys is both tonal and complex, clearly influenced by Benjamin Britten but very much in his own voice. There are no show-stopping arias in Two Boys, but the opera is blessed with a series of brilliant, inventive choruses, inspired by Nico's longtime love of traditional English choral music. I won't soon forget the sight of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus singing while holding open laptops, their faces lit an eerie blue; it reminded me of the choruses in John Adams' Nixon in China, where collective ideology has replaced independent thought.
Among the performers, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote somehow managed to be both stoic and deeply moving as Anne, while tenor Paul Appleby defied his age as Brian. David Robertson lent his formidable contemporary-music chops in the pit, while Bartlett Sher's direction was illuminating without being heavy handed. And, Craig Lucas has earned his place in opera history with his brilliant integration of chat-room speak throughout the tight libretto. Top prize, though, goes to the team from 59 Productions, whose projections of the chat-room dialogue and other images were the most brilliant blend of art and technology I've ever witnessed at the Met, or any opera house for that matter.
Two Boys is a triumph, not so much for its inherent qualities, but for what it represents: the passing of the torch to a new generation of creators who are re-embracing opera's essential role as a mirror for our time, and a document for the future. If you haven't yet seen it, you have two more chances: tonight and next Thursday, both at 8 p.m. Go.
More pics on the photo page.