Boston Lyric Opera
“Lizzie Borden took an axe/And gave her mother forty whacks…”—so begins the old rhyme about the 1890s murder case in Fall River, Massachusetts. Both stepmother and father were killed. Though Elizabeth Borden was cleared of the crime in a jury trial, artistic treatments of the case have assumed her guilt, notably Agnes de Mille’s ballet of 1948, Fall River Legend, and Jack Beeson’s opera Lizzie Borden of 1965. There are films and television series, some realized, some still in the planning stage.
A few minutes after the final curtain of Two Boys descended, after composer Nico Muhly received his ovation and joined the cast for their curtain calls, I think I figured out the true nature of this opera. This was the first main stage Metropolitan Opera production of the estimable Met/Lincoln Center Theater New Works program. Two Boys has been in the works for over five years, and had its world premiere at the English National Opera in 2011. The Met has given it serious encouragement and high-end attention. The opera has a libretto—based on an actual crime in 2001, in Manchester, England—by playwright Craig Lucas, a Pulitzer and Tony finalist; was directed by Tony Award-winning Bartlett Sher (South Pacific); and conducted by David Robertson, music- director designate of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a musician especially admired for his performances of contemporary music. The intricate production design by Michael Yeargan, which includes a gloomy police office with overhead fluorescent lights, and projections of computer screens and internet chat rooms (by 59 Productions), is certainly not cheap looking (as was Yeargan’s set for one of the Met’s few other premiere’s in recent decades, John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby). Care and money had clearly gone into this production.
I’ve always thought it was a terrible idea to stage opera overtures. The music is there to help set the mood for what’s to follow, to allow you to open the magic casements of your imagination and picture for yourself what’s going to happen later—and for the only time to concentrate completely on the music itself. But these days, it’s almost impossible to see any opera performance that doesn’t have a staged overture, and all too often the staging has nothing to do with the music we’re hearing (last season’s Boston Lyric Opera Flying Dutchman was one of the worst offenders in this regard). But it turns out there’s something even worse than staging an overture, and it happened at the Lyric’s new production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, at the Shubert Theatre, closed October 13).
There haven’t been many Wagner productions in Boston—mostly the forces called for are too big for Boston’s smaller operatic venues (its Opera House was torn down in 1958). But marking the Wagner bicentennial this year is a new production of …