By Lynne Gray, PhD
Note: This performance will be available at www.metopera.org.
Thursday, April 30
Nico Muhly’s Marnie ~ 2Hrs and 22Mins
Starring Isabel Leonard, Iestyn Davies, and Christopher Maltman, conducted by Roberto Spano. From November 10, 2018.
Yep! This is a brand new opera based on the same story as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 movie that so many of us are familiar with from way back when! Winston Graham’s gripping 1961 psychological thriller filled with intrigue and deception was the basis for both the movie and for Nico Muhly’s opera which had its United States premiere at the Met during the 2018–19 season. Although many specific details from the movie have been either altered or updated, the basics remain. Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard stars in the title role as the enigmatic, Marnie, a young con artist who takes on false identities to protect herself from any authentic human relationships. She is remarkably successful until she meets her match in Mark Rutland, sung by baritone Christopher Maltman, who pursues her—with surprising consequences – for both of them. Director Michael Mayer’s cinematic production is alive with vivid color in the 60s-inspired costumes by Oscar-nominated designer Arianne Phillips. Robert Spano conducts a talented cast, which also features soprano Janis Kelly, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, and countertenor Iestyn Davies.
The opera is set in England in 1959 – the basics are that Marnie is pursued, literally by her “anxiety chorus” – the four alter egos that shadow her throughout the opera, and figuratively by the demons of her childhood which we piece together as the story develops. We begin to see that Marnie only remains in any particular job until someone – usually a sexually over-aggressive boss – tries to get to close. At that point, she steals what she can from the company (gives most of it to her ailing mother), takes on a new identity and moves to another town. We get the gist of this from the first boss we see her fighting off, Mr. Strutt, who relentlessly pursues her for the rest of the opera.
Her second boss turns out to be Mark Rutland, somewhat more of a gentleman than Strutt, but he has a decidedly ungentlemanly brother, Terry. When first Terry and then Mark try to get close to her, she feels (shall we say) forced to steal and run again. This time however, Mark catches her in the act and indeed, forces her to marry him or go to jail.
The honeymoon cruise turns into a disaster – Marnie refuses his more and more insistent demands for sex until Mark attempts to rape her. An unusual (near) soprano death ends Act 1 as our heroine attempts suicide. And so, you might well ask – what’s left for Act 2.
The answer is – a lot! We learn of Marnie’s only love, her horse, Florio; we begin to understand both her psychological problems and the fact that Mark does actually love her and want to help her; we encounter the even further complication that she is beginning to love him as well. Her inability to accept her own budding feelings of love inevitably leads to her final attempt at theft and escape.
I don’t want to spoil the suspense by revealing the end, or the rather horrifying realities of Marnie’s childhood, or for that matter by explaining why she says “I’m free” as she is being led off to jail…. I do, however, want to recommend this major new opera to you as a particularly palatable modern work – especially as sung by the beautiful, and beautiful-voiced, Isabel Leonard.
1. Isabel Leonard as Marnie with her ”anxiety chorus” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.
2. Isabel Leonard as Marnie and Iestyn Davies as Terry at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit…Ken Howard / Met Opera
3. Isabel Leonard as Marnie and Christopher Maltman as Mark at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit…Ken Howard / Met Opera.
4. Isabel Leonard as Marnie at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.
5. Final Scene in Nico Muhly’s Marnie. Credit… Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera.