Richard and I saw *Marnie* at the Met on 10/22/18. It's a new opera with music by Nico Muhly and a libretto by Nicholas Wright. It had its world premiere at the English National Opera last fall. I'll see every new opera at the Met, but this one was especially enticing - - as much as the Met said in all their promotion that the opera was based on the novel by William Graham, I was drawn to *Marnie* because I'm a fan of the Hitchcock movie with Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery.
Plus I'd seen the other two operas by Muhly - - Richard and I saw *Two Boys* at the Met in 2013 and it was impressive. The orchestration was sumptuous, the choral writing was extraordinary, and it had a seriousness of purpose that was notable for a composer under 30. That's right, Muhly was only 28 when his opera was done at the Met. The thing that was lacking was drama. The story never really took off.
Karen and I saw his other opera, *Dark Sisters* at Gotham Chamber Opera, and we walked out at intermission. I said to Karen, "If I'm sitting here thinking, 'I'd rather be at home watching *Law and Order*' that's a sign that I should leave." It was so boring.
So I was curious and a little skittish about this new opera. The story sure did promise plenty of drama, but would Muhly deliver it in his music? I'll get to that in a minute. Good news first: as in *Two Boys,* it was the choral writing that was the standout. Dazzling, colorful, idiomatic, gorgeous, the highlight of the score. The Met production (directed by Michael Mayer) was first class, visually compelling, smooth and sleek. Robert Spano made his Met debut as conductor, he brought out all the colors in the score. The performances were all very strong - - Isabel Leonard was Marnie, she was wonderful, she put across the complexity of her character. I'm hearing her twice more this season, in *Pelléas et Mélisande* and *Dialogues des Carmelites.* Christopher Maltman played her husband, he was very good, has a handsome voice. Two singers who haven't sung at the Met in many years made triumphant returns: Anthony Dean Griffey was Marnie's first boss, you could feel his thrill at being back on the Met stage. And Marnie's mother was played by the great Denyce Graves, whose role had a sharp focus, and she sang incisively. She was fantastic. I hope to see them both again soon.
The problem, again, was a lack of drama. The vocal writing was bland, which is a serious problem in an opera. And the big scene, the hunt, had all of the signs of drama but no actual drama. I'll go to his fourth opera, I just hope it's better.
Here's a clip from the final dress rehearsal. It perfectly captures the flavor (or flavorlessness) of the music. To me, it sounds like warmed-over John Adams - - the surface intelligence of Adams but not the depth or pungency.