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Web Intrigue, Sex, Stabbing Rock Nico Muhly’s ‘Two Boys’

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Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) -- “This is a very old story of people searching to be loved,” says Nico Muhly about “Two Boys,” which opens at the Metropolitan Opera Oct. 21.

Directed by Bartlett Sher, the work is a co-production of the Met and the English National Opera, where it premiered in 2011.

With a libretto by Craig Lucas, “Two Boys” deals with sex, violence and dark Internet intrigue. “It’s a modern thing that uses the oldest operatic tropes,” explains the 32-year-old composer.

We spoke during a break in rehearsals at the Metropolitan Opera.

Lundborg: As I was watching all the activity on the stage, I wondered what it must be like for you, whose fevered creative neurons called it into being.

Muhly: I had a funny sort of out-of-body experience the other day, watching the chorus, the dancers, the singers, the crew -- it’s a lot of people. It’s an amazing, anxiety-provoking feeling, but a nice one.

Lundborg: When you saw it at the ENO, how was it different from the way you’d conceived it?

Muhly: I didn’t allow myself the pleasure of making too many visual preconceptions, because that gets in the way of the people who are staging it.

It was a very deep and complicated realization of the emotional content of the piece, which is really what I care about.

Met Input

Lundborg: During the Met rehearsals, do they welcome your input?

Muhly: Totally.

Lundborg: So you’re not like the writer on a film shoot?

Muhly: In opera, the score is the ur-text of the project.

Lundborg: What changes did you make from the first production?

Muhly: The big thing we did was reverse the beginnings of the two acts -- I just picked them up with a spatula. We simply had to follow the threads through.

We also gave a little more music to the detective in the interest of deepening her backstory.

Lundborg: “Dark Sisters” is about Mormon women and “Two Boys” deals with sex and identity on the web. What attracts you to a subject?

Reality Show

Muhly: I’ve always thought reality is better than making something up -- it’s so much crazier. I like things where the emotional content is linked to something loosely political -- and at the same time, it’s not clear-cut, and not moralistic.

Lundborg: You’re famously prolific. How do you manage your time?

Muhly: Most of the composers whose music I really like were employees of church or state, like Bach, Gibbons, Byrd, Tallis. They had to just keep composing.

I’ll write from seven a.m. to four, or ten to eight. It depends. The earlier I get up, the better it is.

Lundborg: Then how do you keep your hipster cred?

Muhly: Sometimes I’m monastically always in, but sometimes I’m just out all the time.

Lundborg: On your blog, you talk about Lent and Advent. Are you religious?

Liturgical Year

Muhly: I was raised in an interesting dual family -- half Jewish and half Lutheran, but when I was 11 I started singing in an Anglican boys choir. I quickly realized that was the music I deeply connected to.

I do the year liturgically as a way of organizing my time. It’s more beautiful.

Lundborg: What are you working on now?

Muhly: I’m writing a 40-minute piece for Iestyn Davies and chamber orchestra. I’m at the part right now where I have a piece of paper that says Iestyn on it.

I have it on my desk and I look at it every morning.

Lundborg: You’re included in the chapter on prodigies in Andrew Solomon’s “Far From the Tree.” He says brilliance can be a big impediment to intimacy. Do you agree?

Muhly: I don’t think I’m particularly brilliant -- or particularly intimate.

“Two Boys” runs through Nov. 14 at the Met. Information: +1-212-362-6000; http://www.metoperafamily.org.

Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and Philip Boroff on theater.

(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

To contact the writer on this story: Zinta Lundborg at zlundborg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.