Nico Muhly's Two Boys and the dangers of the internet
Will the real imposter please stand up?
Could this be the first instance of art imitates Net imitates life? Certainly, it seems that Nico Muhly’s hotly anticipated Two Boys opera has placed its fingers with almost uncanny precision on the pulse of current affairs. Premiering at ENO on Friday, it is billed on their website as 'a cautionary tale about the dark side of the internet', a murder investigation which 'uncovers a bizarre nexus of chatroom meetings' and 'mysterious internet identities'.
Ahead of the opening, what’s striking is how the opera’s themes have played out in the media in recent weeks. Last week, Joanne Fraill became the first juror to be prosecuted for contempt of court after admitting at London's High Court to using Facebook to exchange messages with a defendant. Like the characters in Muhly’s opera, Fraill fell victim to the illusion of intimacy that the Internet brings.
But it’s the issues surrounding anonymity that have produced the most surreal exchanges in front of the cameras. First there was the ENO’s Two Boys debate in which the author Will Self, speaking before a live audience, revealed that someone had stolen his identity on Twitter. When Muhly, also on the panel, pointed out that the imposter’s tweets resembled the work of a highly organised publicist, who had alerted followers not just to Self’s literary output but also to the debate, Self turned to the audience and asked, albeit jokingly, whether the offending Tweeter was present. It was a bizarre moment, given the imposter – unknown to Self – might well have been in the room.
More recently, similar revelations about the pitfalls of online anonymity were played out on Newsnight when Jeremy Paxman, talking to Jelena Lecic – the woman who was mistakenly identified by the national press as, Amina, the Syrian ‘gay girl blogger’ – raised the question as to whether or not she actually exists: ‘It could be a man, a group of people,’ he speculated, casting aside reports that she may have been kidnapped and throwing the question as to what might, or might not be real, wide open for debate.
Paxman has since been proved right and Self, to judge by the ENO debate, will probably never know who’s tweeting on his behalf. But then, as Muhly’s opera suggests, you can’t always trust what you read online…
Nick Shave is a freelance music writer, critic, and contributing editor to BBC Music Magazine.