English National Opera’s marketing machine
has gone into overdrive for the world premiere of Nico Muhly and Craig Lucas’s
opera Two Boys and taken every opportunity to exploit new
technology in getting the word out.
There’s been a blog, a video-streamed
debate and a promotional video that has gone viral, garnering nearly a million
hits on Youtube. Will Self has provoked
a lively discussion on the impact the internet now has on our lives and it was looking
as though all this everyday drama and debate was going to be taken into the
opera house to create something vital and thought-enhancing.
Unfortunately, what Muhly and
Lucas give us is an old-fashioned, poorly-crafted piece of work that is as
dramatically inert as anything you’re ever likely to see. All the intellectual enquiry and argument
that makes the Will Self discussion so interesting and relevant to our lives is
missing in the actual show.
The starting point is a reworking
of a 40-year old play, Peter Shaffer’s Equus, with a police mystery tacked on and
a storyline less compelling than an average episode of The
dramatis personae remains intact – investigating authority
figure, troubled teenager, sexually-provocative girlfriend and confused,
churchgoing parents - and to bring this creaky old psychological thriller
up-to-date, the dysfunctional youth spends too much time on his laptop.
Muhly’s music is easy on the ear
and has outbursts of energy, with a pleasing quintet to end Act 1, but it’s too
much like an Adams, Glass or Andriessen score with most of the excitement expunged.
It’s easily the strongest element
of the evening though. Dramatically, Two
Boys is every TV police drama rolled into one. Susan Bickley has proved herself again and
again in much more complex and demanding material than this but, as the
detective investigating the mystery, she has little of interest to do.
She’s given the usual backstory of
life/work crises (an ailing mum at home, too much time in the office, bottle in the desk) and must be
the thickest plod there’s ever been. I
don’t need to add a spoiler; you’ll work out the mystery fairly early on and
certainly get it long before her uncomprehending analogue brain does.
Proving again that he’s a real
star in the making, Nicky Spence gives the standout performance, as the 16 year
old who has apparently stabbed not a stableful of horses but a much younger boy
in an alleyway.
Bartlett Sher’s production
reflects the material and limps unimaginatively, the whole machinery moving
with the speed of early 90s dial-up rather than the super-swift broadband of
today. Even the inevitable projections
by 59 Productions fail to inject much excitement.
Two decades on from the internet
exploding into our lives, it’s time to pause and take stock of how we live in
the digital age. The opera house is as
good a place as any to do that but Two Boys, which was a
great opportunity to be cutting edge, innovative and inquiring, misses the mark
by a mile.
On cam masturbation may seem
daring to some but it just isn’t enough to cut the gravee.