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Classical 101

The Met Presents New Nico Muhly Opera, 'Marnie'

Ken Howard
Metropolitan Opera
Isabel Leonard (center) in the title role of Marnie with (left to right) Disella Larusdottir, Deanna Breiwick, Peabody Southwell and Rebecca Ringle Kamarei as the Shadow Marnies

Audiences around the world will have the chance to watch The Metropolitan Opera's new production  Marnie Live in HD at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10.

In Columbus, come sit by me at Crosswoods Cinemas.

Opera Abbreviated usually features a podcast episode with musical examples and some hopefully pithy and peppery remarks by yours truly, devoted to the opera to be seen live in HD from the Met the following weekend.

Easy and a joy to do when we’re discussing Aida, Samson et Dalila or Adriana Lecouvreur. Those operas are all old friends.

Not so Marnie.

Winston Graham's novel about the mysterious woman who changes – not shape but character – gained international fame with Hitchcock's 1964 film starring Tippi Hedren.

Nico Muhly and his librettist Nicholas Wright are said to have remained more faithful to Graham's novel than did Hitchcock.

Nico and Nicholas may not have Hedren for the opera, but the lady did attend the opening at the Met two weeks ago. Now 88, Hedren bowed with the cast and got her own ovation without singing a note.

I can't tell you much about Marnie because I haven't heard any of it – just bits in the promotional videos.

Directed by Michael Maye and conducted by Robert Spano, the show looks magnificent. The cast is very strong, with Isabel Leonard, Christopher Maltman, Iestyn Davies and two wonderful artists making returns to the Met, Denyce Graves and Anthony Dean Griffey.

And when was the last time you saw such elegant costumes not being worn by the queen of Spain or the Tsar of Russia?

Critics loved the production, and some were unkind to the music.

Anne Midgette in the The Washington Post wrote:

"'Marnie,' with music by Nico Muhly and a libretto by Nicholas Wright, represents a colossal waste of talent and opportunity. Having a new work open at the Met is cause for huge excitement, and the audience was filled with musical luminaries, including acclaimed opera composers such as Philip Glass and John Corigliano, each of whom has had one opera premiered at the Met (this was Muhly’s second Met co-commission). ...
"[Muhly's] score, to my ear, was the sound of someone holding back: creating moods and anticipation and setups, with slashing piccolos scattering ornaments and lightning bolts while the lower instruments piled up grumbling clouds of suspense, without ever actually taking hold and delivering something — beyond flickers of surging sugary emotion at a few moments."

Go anyway. I love you, Anne, but you didn’t pay to get in.

Audiences are loving Marnie. I have heard that from friends who have seen the performances in the theater. The Met is selling a lot of tickets.

Muhly has a fine track record as a composer. I’m very fond of his Cello Concerto and the choral Bright Mass with Canons.

It's important to support The Metropolitan Opera in presenting a new work. Audiences owe it to the art form. Give new operas a chance and more may follow. There's gold in the toil of making new work.

If Marnie isn’t gold, it may be platinum. I'm looking forward to a riveting show.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.
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