A New Opera For (And About) The Facebook Generation

Nico Muhly's first opera, Two Boys, opens this week at the English National Opera.(Photo: http://www.twoboysopera.com/)
Nico Muhly's first opera, Two Boys, opens this week at the English National Opera.(Photo: http://www.twoboysopera.com/)

Nico Muhly’s much anticipated first opera, Two Boys premieres this week (June 24) at the English National Opera.

The result of a collaboration with librettist Craig Lucas in a production by Bartlett Sher, Two Boys has not even opened yet and already it has sparked serious debate in academia around questions as profound as whether or not the internet is helping us achieve some cultural and communication ideal or is instead turning us all into monsters.

Two Boys begins when a boy is stabbed in an English industrial city. At first, the police believe they’ve got their suspect, an older boy caught on tape running away from the scene of the crime. But further investigation takes the detective assigned to the case into a mystery involving cybersex, spy rings, and chat rooms — a lurid, interconnected world she discovers but, ultimately, can’t access.

Watch Two Boys trailer:

Muhly talks passionately about a new generation –  living much of their lives online in a whole new world of communication with new technology and the paradoxical paradigm created when kids are sent to their rooms to study quietly and instead log-on to social networks.

The question Muhly is so fascinated with (and believes parents should be too) is: what are this new generation of digital netizens doing in and with that world?

“It could mean getting in a whole mess of trouble or completely expanding [their] horizons,” Muhly says.

Watch composer Nico Muhly describe his fascination with social media and youth communication culture, which, he says, inspired his new opera, Two Boys.

Muhly sees writing an opera that deals with the depth of the web and infinite systems of communication as a moral obligation.

Indeed, the questions raised by his new work are already being taken very seriously, not just among opera buffs, but also by social and cultural critics.

In a panel organized by the English National Opera, cultural commentators Will Self, Norman Lebrecht, Claire Fox, and Muhly himself debate the question: is the web making monsters of us all?

Watch more video of this excellent debate on the website of New York public radio station WQXR.

What do you think? Are these issues that opera can or should attempt to address?

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