Sadly I don’t make it to the opera as much as I used to, but when something special comes up in the English National Opera programme I always prioritise it in my diary.
Nico Muhly is a young and talented composer, his first opera Two Boys premiered at the ENO in 2011, and was later taken to The Met in New York. Marnie, this third and most recent opera, is based on Winston Graham’s novel of the same name. The plot follows the story of a young woman who makes her living embezzling and stealing from her employers before moving on and reinventing herself.
Muhly’s score is dramatic and sensual. Unlike many modern operatic scores Marnie has passages of lyrical melodies and twinkling orchestral textures. For the majority of the piece it is Sasha Cooke as the manipulative Marnie and Daniel Okulitch as Mark Rutland, her desperate husband on stage. Neither character is warm or lovable, although they are both utterly compelling and addictive to watch, mastering Muhly’s difficult score and commanding the stage. It was also a pleasure to see Lesley Garrett back on stage at the Coliseum, one of the first opera singers I ever saw perform. Her wholehearted characterisation of Mrs Rutland was very enjoyable to watch, and Garrett’s voice seems as effortless as ever, in her third decade performing at this venue.
The composer offers each protagonist an instrument, Marnie’s motif is played by the oboe, troubled and expected, the leering Terry is allocated a powerful trumpet part. It is the choral parts that I relished the most though. The writing is expressive and exciting and the ENO chorus give gusto and energy to the writing. It is also thanks to solid playing from the orchestra and superbly musical conducting from Martyn Brabbins.
It is impossible to write about Marnie without mentioning the stylish and slick production, staging and costumes. I wasn’t surprised to discover that all the costumes were sponsored by Mr Porter. Set in England in the 1950s, costume designer Arianne Phillips has gone to town with bright, sharp tailored outfits throughout the show.
It is a joy to see and hear Marnie on stage. As ever ENO are at the forefront of showcasing the brightest new opera in the music world.
More information and book tickets to see Marnie at the ENO on one of the final performances (1st and 3rd December) here.