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  • richardmitnick 3:14 PM on November 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Marnie, ,   

    From The Rest is Noise via the New Yorker: “Nico Muhly Escapes Hitchcock with a “Marnie” Opera” 

    From The Rest is Noise

    Alex Ross, by E.H Jan 17th 2013

    November 5, 2018
    Alex Ross

    1
    Illustration by Cynthia Kittler

    “Didone,” “Norma,” “Tosca,” “Salome,” “Elektra,” “Lulu”: the operatic repertory overflows with works that take their title from a doomed female character, one who is made to undergo a kind of ritual sacrifice. It is a pattern that goes far back: the genre began with Daphne turning into a laurel tree and with Eurydice being dragged back to Hades. Even so, opera’s dependence on the female voice had the effect of empowering singers, who attained unusual cultural authority during eras when women were generally consigned to the social periphery.

    Nico Muhly by Samantha West

    Nico Muhly’s new opera, “Marnie,” which was first seen at the English National Opera last year and is now at the Met, extends and revises that troubling history. The work is drawn from two eponymous sources: Winston Graham’s novel, from 1961, and Alfred Hitchcock’s film, from 1964. Marnie is a sociopathic young woman who routinely invents new identities, steals from her employers, and then vanishes. The story is, on its face, a stereotypical male fantasy of female neurosis: the Hitchcock version borders on misogynist hysteria. From this twisted material, Muhly fashions an absorbing, ambiguous, and haunting entertainment.

    The opera, which has a libretto by the British playwright Nicholas Wright, is based more on the novel than on the film, although the icy allure of the Hitchcock style is undoubtedly the reason “Marnie” has arrived at the Met. Graham was a prolific novelist who is best remembered for his “Poldark” series—historical romances that have been adapted by the BBC. His “Marnie” is told in the first person, and delivers its bizarre narrative with unexpected wit and flair. The protagonist at first finds a hardboiled thrill in pulling off her heists, but is eventually forced to confront the familial trauma that is said to drive her: it turns out that her mother fell into prostitution, became pregnant, and killed the baby to avoid shame.

    The most shocking moment in “Marnie”—book, film, and opera alike—is when Mark Rutland, the head of the printing company where Marnie is employed, attempts to rape her. Mark has seen through her latest scam but is in love with her all the same. He blackmails her into marrying him, then forces himself on her when she refuses his advances. In the novel, Marnie is allowed to speak of her “repulsion and horror”; Graham takes no sadistic pleasure in the situation. The same cannot be said of Hitchcock. It was apparently the rape scene that drew the director to the story, and he filmed it in a grotesquely detached, pseudo-artistic manner. The sequence is even more intolerable in light of the testimony of the actress Tippi Hedren, who played Marnie: in a 2016 memoir, she described how Hitchcock had sexually harassed her.

    In the opera, nothing mitigates the horror of Mark’s act. As Marnie fights him off, she asks, “Do you know what I mean when I say ‘No’?” The last word is drawn out in an anguished melisma. She escapes to the bathroom and attempts suicide by slitting her wrists. The orchestra flails and screams along with her. As a composer, Muhly is attracted to glittering sounds, elegantly intertwining lyrical lines, and austere polyphonic textures modelled on Renaissance and Anglican choral music. His uncharacteristic choice here of a harsh, brittle texture indicates that the violation is again being told from Marnie’s point of view.

    Throughout, Muhly’s chief concern is to show the individuation of the protagonist. At the beginning of the opera, Marnie inhabits a male-dominated world in which women are treated as interchangeable objects. An opening scene in a secretarial pool has female employees chanting in unison—“I enclose an invoice for our services,” “I like your nails”—as the orchestra chatters and pulses around them, with high winds predominating. Sustained tones in the lower brass suggest the weight of the male gaze. Marnie has a knack for manipulating the predictable behavior of male colleagues. She is shadowed by a quartet of look-alikes in candy-colored coats, who form a kind of madrigal ensemble, singing in cool tones without vibrato. Ingeniously, they represent both Marnie’s seductiveness and her internal confusion.

    Marnie’s game falls apart when two men become too curious about her: Mark, who is propelled by a murky mixture of aggression and sympathy; and Mark’s brother Terry, who is purely malevolent, seeking to destroy Marnie after she spurns him. Marnie’s own shell begins to crack after memories of her childhood resurface, partly through the mediation of a male psychoanalyst. In the end, though, she experiences an epiphany on her own. She gives herself up to the police, and it is not at all clear that she will go back to Mark when she is released.

    Muhly, who is thirty-seven, burst onto the musical scene a little over a decade ago. There has never been doubt about his prodigious talent, even if he has sometimes been too distracted by his myriad musical loves. “Two Boys” and “Dark Sisters,” his first two operas, offered magical set pieces but suffered from dramatic deficiencies. Parts of Act I of “Marnie” follow the same pattern, lacking momentum. Act II is another matter: Muhly assumes command, filtering the action through his restless lyric voice. The four central characters—Marnie, Mark, Terry, and Marnie’s mother—are beautifully differentiated, with melodic contours and instrumental timbres tailored for each. Marnie’s instrument is the oboe, and the opera’s trajectory is telegraphed in the first bars, where a sustained oboe note is drowned out by a shrill trumpet and by grunts of brass. By the end, as Marnie sings “I’m free!” in upward-vaulting intervals, she is accompanied by an intricate, vital new sonority of piccolos, celesta, harp, and bowed crotales.

    The Met marshalled an élite cast on opening night. Isabel Leonard, as Marnie, used her rich-hued mezzo to trace the character’s complicated layers. The baritone Christopher Maltman was similarly agile as Mark: he brought a vacant, self-involved air to his rapt Act II aria, in which he compares Marnie to a startled deer. The countertenor Iestyn Davies made for a chillingly incisive Terry; Denyce Graves lent a bracing tinge of Tennessee Williams melodrama to the role of Marnie’s mother. Robert Spano presided over a virtuosic orchestral and choral performance. The production, directed by Michael Mayer, is both chic and affecting. Fluid sets and projections, by Julian Crouch and 59 Productions, deftly cover more than twenty changes of scene. The costumes, by Arianne Phillips, play Marnie’s bright colors against a dull-gray background. The intrusion of the four doppelgängers and of a squad of fedora-wearing male dancers suggests that at least half of what we see is taking place in Marnie’s mind.

    What if a woman had taken on the task of composing “Marnie”? The Met has presented only two operas by women in its history: Ethel Smyth’s “Der Wald,” in 1903; and Kaija Saariaho’s “L’Amour de Loin,” in 2016. The company recently signalled that it will begin to correct this dismal record by commissioning operas from Missy Mazzoli and Jeanine Tesori. I was particularly excited to hear of the Mazzoli project—an adaptation of George Saunders’s novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Mazzoli is of Muhly’s generation, and has made her name with stories of gnashing Expressionist power. “Breaking the Waves,” her first evening-length opera, buffeted audiences at Opera Philadelphia two seasons ago. “Proving Up,” a smaller-scale but no less disconcerting piece, had its première earlier this year, and was staged in September at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

    Mazzoli’s favorite collaborator is the prolific librettist Royce Vavrek, who has shaken up the timid, backward-looking business of American opera. “Proving Up,” based on a story by Karen Russell, is set on the Nebraska plains in the late nineteenth century, but it is blunt, stark, and devoid of nostalgia. As in “Breaking the Waves,” Mazzoli wrings ferocious intensity from familiar-seeming materials: folkish ballads and wheezing harmonicas are blended into a gorgeously eerie orchestral fabric, one that includes dangling guitars brushed with whisks. Andrew Harris, a young Berlin-based singer with a striking black-toned bass, provided the stuff of nightmares with his turn as a supernatural apparition known as the Sodbuster. The unleashing of Mazzoli’s apocalyptic imagination on the huge Met stage is an occasion eagerly awaited. ♦

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century is a voyage into the labyrinth of modern music, which remains an obscure world for most people. While paintings of Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, and lines from T. S. Eliot are quoted on the yearbook pages of alienated teenagers across the land, twentieth-century classical music still sends ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, its influence can be felt everywhere. Atonal chords crop up in jazz. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalism has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward.

    The Rest Is Noise shows why twentieth-century composers felt compelled to create a famously bewildering variety of sounds, from the purest beauty to the purest noise. It tells of a remarkable array of maverick personalities who resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with sweet sounds or battered them with dissonance, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art. The narrative goes from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

    newsounds.org from New York Public Radio


    https://www.wnyc.org/
    93.9FM
    https://www.wqxr.org/
    105.9FM
    http://www.thegreenespace.org/

    For great Jazz

    88.3FM http://wbgo.org/

    WPRB 103.3FM


    Please visit The Jazz Loft Project based on the work of Sam Stephenson
    Please visit The Jazz Loft Radio project from New York Public Radio

     
  • richardmitnick 12:31 PM on October 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Marnie, , ,   

    From The New York Times: “Nico Muhly on the Drama of Bringing His New Opera to the Met” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    1
    Nico Muhly on rehearsing his new opera, “Marnie”: “I figure it’s only fair of me to be flexible.”CreditCreditDaniel Dorsa for The New York Times

    Nico Muhly by Samantha West

    Bedroom Community,Valgeir Sigurðsson, Nico Muhly, Ben Frost, Nadia Sirota, Sam Amidon, Daníel Bjarnason, Puzzle Muteson. by EuphemiaUCAS

    Oct. 17, 2018
    Nico Muhly

    “Marnie,” my new opera, which has its American premiere on Friday at the Metropolitan Opera, is about a woman who lies, steals, gets caught and is forced to marry a man who sexually assaults her. It’s delicate material — to say the least — and deeply plot-driven, and the dramatic structure has to be airtight to allow room for expressive musicality.

    The director, Michael Mayer, called me with the idea for a “Marnie” opera five years ago. The story is most famous from the Hitchcock film, but we found that the 1961 Winston Graham novel on which it’s based was a far richer source of psychological tension and freed us from any visual or musical entanglements with the movie. That first notion blossomed into a wonderful libretto by Nicholas Wright, which then turned into a giant stack of manuscript.

    Now, in the days before opening, among the orchestra, the chorus, the principal singers, the stage crew, spot ops, dressers, wig-makers, etc., there are hundreds of people reacting to this document; it’s a huge, thrilling, anxiety-producing setup.

    In the middle of rehearsal last week, Nick Wright, Michael and I had a sudden revelation: One of the arias, already endlessly fretted over, was seriously hindering the dramatic flow. The aria, in which Marnie tries to escape her husband but catches herself having second thoughts, was musically satisfying. I’d spent ages getting a kind of throbbing brass chorale to work; there was a clever interplay between the oboe and the voice; and Nick’s text gave us what we thought was a much-needed window into Marnie’s state of mind.


    Marnie: TrailerCreditCreditVideo by Metropolitan Opera

    But when Michael was staging the scenes that precede and follow this moment, it immediately became clear that the entire dramatic beat was unnecessary: We were “telling, not showing,” the classic drama-school no-no, and the aria took what should have felt like a satisfying gravitational pull toward the final scene and stalled it midair. (I was reminded of Boris Johnson’s humiliating zip-line ride, where he got stuck in the middle of it, bobbing helplessly over the park.)

    What if we just — cut it? I rushed over to the full score, figured out a way to make the snip work musically — scooch the oboe’s entrance over a bar; get rid of some vestigial gongs — and we tried it out: It was so much better. It felt like we’d obeyed Coco Chanel’s advice: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” The conductor, Robert Spano, and I mourned the musical loss over a negroni but toasted to how much more successful the last 30 (now 26) minutes of the show would be without it.

    With a piece of concert music, I can tell, more or less, if the structure holds together just by looking through the manuscript in my studio. With a piece of theater, however, I find that on paper and even in rehearsals, the overall soundness of the structure is always just slightly out of view. It’s when you see an opera on stage for the first time with an audience that it feels like shining a black light on a crime scene: Even if you thought you’d carefully wiped clean all of the strange incisions and seams of the compositional process, you’ve still missed a spot.

    2
    Isabel Leonard, center, as the title character in “Marnie” at the Metropolitan Opera.Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

    None of this sort of work is, for me, fully possible to execute if I’m sitting at my desk at home. It requires being in the room with Michael; with Nick; with Isabel Leonard, who plays Marnie; with Paul Cremo, the Met’s dramaturg; and seeing the scenes unfold in real time.

    I want to know what Isabel thinks about a given transition: She is the one who has to communicate what I wrote, and if there’s anything I can do to help her do that with grace and power, I feel that’s my job as a composer. If I can change an E flat to an F to make the text clearer, I will do it; if we need a better word, Nick will come over, and we’ll confer about how to make it all sync up. When I write a piece of orchestral music, I can be as controlling as I want, but with a piece this big, I try to be the opposite of precious.

    The practical process of mounting an opera is much more crabwise than one might suspect. For the first three weeks, the cast works in a subterranean rehearsal room with the actual floor of the set recreated; some of the real furniture and props are there, but, for example, the tall sliding panels in our full design are represented by shorter, temporary ones. There is a tag team of brilliant rehearsal pianists, the conductor, two assistant conductors, the director, two assistant directors, the stage manager, an assistant stage manager, the dramaturg — and me, in the corner with piles of scores and laptops and iPads and snacks.

    The chorus, which has been rehearsing and memorizing this work since the summer, comes half a dozen times, but not necessarily to work in any particular order; we might find ourselves staging the ending with the chorus before staging the beginning with the cast. We see the orchestra, which is equally busy, in its rehearsal room once or twice without the singers, then twice with the singers — but never with the chorus.

    Two weeks before we open, we start spending the mornings on the main stage with only the pianists. Visual elements creep in: lighting, projections, costumes, with all their attendant joys and problems. (The tracks in the floor seem to be of a thickness precisely designed to entrap the elegant high heels most of the women in this production wear.)

    The week before we open, we have a morning per act with everything (chorus, orchestra, heels), a complete run-through with piano, a complete final dress rehearsal with everything — then opening. The wildest thing about this schedule is that it means that before opening night, there is only one opportunity to see the whole show as a complete piece of theater, which is oftentimes when some of the more deeply-hidden knots reveal themselves. On opening night of “Dark Sisters,” in 2011, I felt a small amount of air leave the theater when I suddenly realized that I’d boxed the show in with a clumsy transition between an indoor space and an abstract outdoor space; I hadn’t perceived this until then.

    My inbox is, as I write this, filling up with requests to come to the dress rehearsal; in London, where “Marnie” had its premiere last year, it seems like a blood sport to go to the dress rather than to a show, and then make subdued but icy declarations of the opera’s wretchedness to anybody who will listen. I always liken the dress rehearsal to that moment in cooking for a group when the stew looks like grave slime (it needs that final 20 minutes to reduce), there are cardoons everywhere, and I’m in a sarong singing along to “Graceland.” It’s not ready yet! Go wait at a bar somewhere!

    I’ve learned, after three operas, what sorts of things require my intervention and what will get better on their own. My role, as I understand it now, is to be an editor and custodian of the document Nick and I created, and to guide — but not prescribe — the various options the singers and musicians have in expounding it. Obviously, it’s anxiety provoking, but as it’s not going to be me onstage in a negligee singing a high B flat, or in the pit playing an exposed oboe solo after hundreds of bars’ rest, I figure it’s only fair of me to be flexible, and to allow the thousands of hours of experience and diligent preparation to let the piece live on its own.

    Nico Muhly’s “Two Boys” was performed by the Metropolitan Opera in 2013.

    Marnie
    Friday through Nov. 10 at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan; http://www.metopera.org.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    John Schaefer


    For new music by living composers

    newsounds.org from New York Public Radio


    https://www.wnyc.org/
    93.9FM
    https://www.wqxr.org/
    105.9FM
    http://www.thegreenespace.org/

    For great Jazz

    88.3FM http://wbgo.org/

    WPRB 103.3FM


    Please visit The Jazz Loft Project based on the work of Sam Stephenson
    Please visit The Jazz Loft Radio project from New York Public Radio

     
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