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


England, 1959. After stealing money from Mr. Strutt’s firm, Marnie changes her identity and appearance. She applies for a job at Halcyon Printing and is shocked when the man who interviews her is Mark Rutland, whom she met at Mr. Strutt’s office. Marnie joins Mark’s brother, Terry, for a poker game. Afterwards, Terry makes a pass at her, but she rebuffs him. At his home, Mark declares his romantic fascination with Marnie. Later, she breaks into the Halcyon safe, but Mark catches her. He threatens to turn her in unless she agrees to marry him. On their honeymoon, Mark forces himself on his new wife, but Marnie escapes and slits her wrist.

Act II
Frustrated by their sexless marriage, Mark presses Marnie to consult an analyst. After several weeks of treatment, she recalls some painful memories. At a party, Mr. Strutt appears and accuses Marnie of theft. Marnie and Mark attend a foxhunt, with Marnie riding her horse, Forio. When the horse panics, Marnie is thrown, and Mark is injured. Forio has to be shot. Marnie arrives at the hospital where Mark is recovering. As she leaves, she steals his keys. Marnie breaks into the office safe, but she is unable to take the money. She goes to see her mother but arrives to find that she has died. Mark, Terry, and the police arrive. As she is taken into custody, Marnie simply repeats the words “I’m free.”

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.