Muhly’s MARNIE

Event: Muhly’s MARNIE
Date: November 10, 2018, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 3 hours 17 minutes with one intermission
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for MARNIEper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for MARNIEper student • $11.00 online


Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Composer Nico Muhly unveils his second new opera for the Met with this gripping reimagining of Winston Graham’s novel, set in the 1950s, about a beautiful, mysterious young woman who assumes multiple identities. She makes her living by embezzling from her employers, moving on, and changing her identity. She is finally caught in the act by one of her employers, a young widower named Mark Rutland, who blackmails her into marriage. Two shocking events near the end of the story send the troubled woman to the brink of suicide and she eventually must face the trauma from her past which is the root cause of her behaviour. Director Michael Mayer and his creative team have devised a fast-moving, cinematic world for this exhilarating story of denial and deceit, which also inspired a film (1964) by Alfred Hitchcock. By special arrangement with Universal Pictures.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

Nico Muhly is representative of a promising trend in musical composition, in which previously rigid walls between “classical” and “popular” styles — both misnomers anyway — are being torn down. (It’s not the first time this has happened; for instance, think of Gershwin’s orchestral works or Porgy and Bess.) Muhly has worked closely with both Philip Glass and Icelandic pop singer Björk, with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and indie rock bands. A New Englander, he was born in Vermont and raised in Rhode Island; his mother taught at Wellesley. Marnie is his second opera. Like his first, Two Boys, it was premiered by the English National Opera, after which the ENO production travelled intact to the Met.

If you know Alfred Hitchcock’s enigmatic film with Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery in the lead roles (and you should), set aside your preconceptions about the opera. It’s based not on the movie, but on the 1961 novel by Winston Graham from which Hitchcock and his writers derived their script. Neither the movie nor the opera adheres slavishly to its source, but the opera is closer. Hitchcock moved the story to the U.S. Muhly and librettist Nicholas Wright keep it in England. Hitchcock jettisons a bunch of characters that the opera includes, though some relationships are altered and important plot elements are changed. To represent Marnie’s complex inner life, she is surrounded by four female singing “shadows” and an ominous group of male dancers. Muhly is known for his choral writing, and he gives the chorus a large part as participants in, and commentators on, the action.

We’ve heard Carmen and Traviata and Aida. Even in unconventional productions, we know pretty much what to expect. All I know about Marnie, aside from the Hitchcock film, is the few bits I’ve gleaned from reading interviews and reviews, watching YouTube videos (the production looks and sounds gorgeous), and hearing other works by Muhly. Novelty tantalizes. I want to see this.