Muhly: Two Boys

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Muhly
LABELS: Nonesuch
ALBUM TITLE: Muhly: Two Boys
WORKS: Two Boys
PERFORMER: Alice Coote, Paul Appleby, Jennifer Zetlan, Caitlin Lynch, Sandra Piques Eddy, Judith Forst, Christopher Bolduc, Keith Miller; Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra/David Robertson

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Delving into the shadowy world of internet chatrooms and sexual obsession, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys (with libretto by Craig Lucas) is a bold blend of contemporary opera and ‘true crime’. Loosely based on actual events, the work explores a police investigation into the attempted murder of a young teenage boy by the well-meaning youth Brian (Paul Appleby), led by the suitably hard-boiled Detective Inspector Anne Strawson (Alice Coote). Echoing Britten in the work’s examination of the twin ravages of isolation and claustrophobia, Two Boys is otherwise a resolutely 21st-century musical drama, exploring the possibilities and pitfalls of human interaction in the digital age.

Muhly’s radiant post-minimalistic score is at its most magical when capturing the scattered exchanges of the web in dense, glittering orchestral textures and chattering, collage-like choral passages. The writing for solo voice is at times less affecting. Yet the revisions to the work following its 2011 premiere at ENO see a richer backstory added to Strawson, creating a more dramatic mezzo-soprano role which is here powerfully brought to life by Coote.

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This live recording is mostly compelling. Occasional audience responses are heard, notably in response to the odd sardonic delivery by Coote, although elsewhere performers’ swift motion across the stage has occasionally left recording levels patchy. And while the opera’s physical production met with mixed responses, this CD-release frees the listener from literal representations on stage. It seems appropriate that as a recording the almost cosmic aesthetic and scale of Muhly’s score exists in the realm of sound and imagination alone. Kate Wakeling