Cher Public

Desk set

“Two Boys demonstrates that Mr. Muhly is capable of very great things indeed, offering extended glimpses of the kind of masterpiece he just missed writing here, and, more happily, of the kind of masterpiece I feel confident he will write in the future.” [New York Observer] (Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

  • operaassport

    JJ shows,

  • operaassport

    JJ shows, once again, when it comes to criticism he is a genius. This couldn’t be more spot on. Brava/o!

  • Camille

    Hey, this review I just now posted on a week old thread where it will, doubtless, be buried, so since the Two Boys are back up on top I’ll re-post it again here.

    From the New York ReviewBLOG:

  • Salome Where She Danced

    Two Boys libretto = Prime Suspect + The Dying Gaul (except with boys) + Turn of the Screw.

    Two Boys music = Glass + Britten + more Glass.

    (I can’t wait to see the perfectly marvellous Paul Appleby in a better work).

  • Sempre liberal

    I listened to opening night livestream and had a hard time concentrating. I felt that I could be true to the story if I multitasked on my computer, so I spent time with the ruffians in La casa della Cieca.

    Has it been a successful run? I’ve read some good critical commentary, but those I know who saw it found it to be a long evening. Do you think it will be done again?

    • Camille

      Ruffiani? I beg your pardon, Sir/Madam!!!!

      • Sempre liberal

        In addition to some random hookups, I am sure that la casa della cieca has contributed to the hatching of an internet murder plot or two…

        • Camille

          Where do you suppose the plot for this opera came from?

      • Rory Williams

        OMG, I LOVE the Ruffians of Parterre! I feel scarier already by association. And, hey, I heard Camille carries a knife. Just sayin’.

        • Camille

          yeah, man, I carry my stiletto in my stilettos, and a paring knife in my beehive!

          Hallowe’en is coming!!! wooooo hoooooooooo!

          • Rory Williams

            I am a ruffian at ur & Manou’s service always & forever, Chere Camille. Yr Li’l Ruffian, Rory

            • Camille

              Dearest Lad—
              One may be true as a troubadour but to ONE Lady Love alone,
              and your heart has already pledged its troth. Be true to it!

              If, however, you would like to go motorcycle drag racin’ sometime, give me a holler!!!

            • Rory Williams

              U r right, back to the gondola for me. Gonna earn that palazzo for Her Nibs (but, damn, these tourists r a pain!)

            • grimoaldo

              The palazzo in Venice that manou’s ancestor was given as a wedding present (yes, really), and that Rory has dedicated to restoring to her:

            • Rory Williams


            • oedipe

              Including all the art works in it, since nowadays Ca’ Rezzonico houses the Venice Museum of the 18th century.


            • grimoaldo

              Yes oedipe that’s how I know about it, in a chat one time someone said they were going to Venice and I said “try to go and see the exhibits at the Ca Rezzonico, it’s really worth seeing” and manou said “Oh yes, my ancestor was given that house as a wedding present”. I was quite stunned.

            • manou

              This is a perfectly true story -- and to think I only got a car as a wedding present….

  • Sempre liberal

    Better Muhly should have set the Amazon ads to music…

    • Camille


    • Batty Masetto

      Better yet, the personals on Craigslist

  • -Ed.

    A fine piece of writing, JJ.
    I neither saw nor listened to Two Boys, but I come away from your review thinking the librettist might have benefitted from a lens change. Using a reducing glass to gain distance and perspective on the subject matter, instead of relying quite so much on a magnifying glass might have helped. I’m eager to hear the choral music you described.

  • Not surprised to see Milhaud’s opera-minute regarded here as “musically slight”. I think he’s a wonderful composer and craftsman, one who (at least through the late forties) deftly blended musical sophistication and earthiness. But we once again live in an age where the high arts aspire to monumentality. Milhaud’s concise works from the twenties puncture the pretensions of his more garrulous predecessors and successors, which is one reason why they continue to arouse nervous rejection today. In other realms of classical music, 8 minutes is more than enough time to tell a story -- and since Webern and Kurtag, we have become accustomed to perceiving more in much, much less.

    • manou

      Opera-minute or minute opera? Here is a minute short story:

      “For we are like tree trunks in the snow. In appearance they lie sleekly and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, it can’t be done, for they are firmly wedded to the ground. But see, even that is only appearance.” Franz Kafka

      And as I recall there are several very very short stories in Chinese classic literature.

      Brevity is the soul of wit.

      • manou

        Ooooh -- just found another one:

        « Brevity is a great charm of eloquence. » Cicero

        • While we’re on the subject, I suppose it’s time to once again trot out one of the few available recordings of a work by Yuri Khanon. Musically-literate Parterrians will not be surprised to learn that the composer of the “Five Littlest Orgasms” is quite an expert on Erik Satie.

          Mr. Khanon is also an opera composer. Among other works, he has “recomposed” both Norma and La Forza del Destino.

          • Batty Masetto

            I adore these beyond measure, Croche.

          • Batty Masetto

            Khanon has now risen to the ranks of “favorite composers” in my book.

            This concerto (opera?) is also a killer, and doesn’t take all evening either.

        • semira mide

          « Brevity is a great charm of eloquence. » Cicero

          Wish Cicero had practiced what he preached. Latin translations were an endurance test in school.

      • perfidia

        How’s this manou?

        “When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there.”
        Augusto Monterroso

        • manou

          Perfidia -- this is very good indeed. I had not heard of Augusto Monterroso before and will seek out more of his stories.

        • manou

          OK -- this one could be my all-time favourite. Luis Buñuel must have been aware of it.

  • arepo

    To compare Britten’s music with Glass seems rather strange to me.
    I do hear examples of Britten and even Menotti in his music however.
    I found the Sirius listening to be intriguing to the extent that I am sorry to have missed it live and hope that it will get another chance so that I can plan a bit more carefully. It deserves another go-around from what I heard.
    I recognize that my opinion seems to be in the minority but I believe Muhly has talent and that this is just the beginning for him — and a fine beginning at that.

    • Sempre liberal

      I don’t dispute Muhly’s talent as a composer. I’ve heard a number of choral works which are truly magical. He is particularly wonderful at weaving thin and thick textures in a way that connotes vastness or density. He knows the choral voice inside and out.

      I cannot comment about the opera as a whole, because I did not go, but what I did hear on Sirius sounded largely banal (especially the detective scenes and much of the dialogue, which someone in La Casa called “Lloyd Webber-ish”). The choral segments were somewhat more interesting, but the opera overall felt long. The staging, as I read, would have certainly made it more tolerable.

      I’ve heard others say (will this be Cieca’s next canard post?) that Muhly is great with the short form, but the charm wears off in longer forms.

      Glad he had this chance with the MET. If he decides to keep opera in his rep, I’m curious enough to listen.

      • Henry Holland

        He obviously has talent writing choral music but I’ve heard things like the brief ballet score he wrote for Millipied’s “Los Angeles” Dance Project called Moving Parts that is just there, it doesn’t go anywhere in particular. His pop-oriented albums (Mothertongue and Speaks Volumes) are terrible, IMO, as are the attempts at improv that I’ve heard. Look at his works list:

        He’s written an awful lot of music in 12 years, I get a feeling of “assembly line” with it sometimes.

  • operaassport

    Brevity is overrated.

    • RDaggle


      • rapt

        Love it! (Now that I’ve looked it up and learned what it means…)

      • manou


    • Henry Holland

      “What is this brevity that you speak of?”

      --Richard Wagner
      --Olivier Messiaen
      --Kaikhosru Sorabji

  • Tory Adore

    Yes tl;dr when looking at Camille’s Mary garden- but damned if I didn’t read the whole post as somehow I was transported to the Unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters. So much sharing here, so many wonderful links….you lift me out of my provincial little hamlet and propel me to the stars.

  • Gualtier M

    Question: did Muhly compose “Dark Sisters” after “Two Boys”? Because all around that is a better opera.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    The new DOB/La Scala virtual cyber effects in the new Tsar’s Bride production make Two Boys look like a green cathode ray tube and primitive BBS system. Try to find it on the internet -- it’s out there.

  • stignanispawn

    I saw “Two Boys” last night. I thought Paul Appleby and Alice Coote were great, and that some of the choral music was terrific, but I didn’t feel that there was a whole lot of opera there. It reminded me of the old Broadway adage about coming out of a musical “humming the scenery” or, in this case, the technology. Two Boys is another of those succes d’estime operas. I don’t think that we’ll be seeing it in future Met seasons.