It is into this daily grind of efficiency that a demure clerk injects a little excitement – stealing from her workplace, flitting and changing her identity as she has done time and time again. Marnie robs the not-particularly-rich – a modest cinema, a family business – to pay the poor, namely her ailing mother in a damp home. But it's not philanthropy, it's guilt. Something went dreadfully wrong in her childhood...
Nico Muhly's new opera, with libretto by dramatist and master adapter Nicholas Wright, is being given its world premiere at the Coliseum; for London is very much a second home for Muhly who, at 36, is one of the most interesting and likeable composers working today. Performances of Marnie at the Metropolitan Opera House in the composer's native New York will follow next year.
His respect and affection for the English choral tradition – the centuries of music written for the great cathedrals – is shot through his work; as radiant, opulent and reassuring as the silk lining in Marnie's desirable chartreuse coat. The music of Marnie may belong to 2017, but also to all of time. Hearing it for the first time, it is both modern, and familiarly comfortable – flowing like an English river.
Although Marnie was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock, the original book by Poldark author Winston Graham is relatively little known. I recommend it to anyone – it's a gripping read. And far from spoiling that prospect, an evening at English National Opera first would only whet the reader's appetite.
Outstanding singing by US mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke in the title role, and from Canadian baritone Daniel Okulitch (his ENO debut – let's hope he's coming back), sets the bar high, with the ever-adaptable ENO chorus peopling the big set-pieces – the office, the pub, a grand dinner and a fox hunt. The staging of those and innumerable other fast-moving scenes is done with outstanding creativity and technical skill by design production company 59 Productions, whose other London works include War Horse and David Bowie Is at the V&A.
Flawless direction from Broadway director Michael Mayer, making his ENO debut, Arianne Phillips's knowing costume design and Martyn Brabbins's meticulous conducting of Muhly's score (gossamer light but with shocks aplenty) make for an amazing evening. It was nice to see the whole orchestra pulled up on to stage for the curtain call on first night.
With its sexual politics, eye-catching style, pure musicality and edge-of-the-seat drama, Marnie is a thriller on many levels. Like her robbed employers, you must catch her if you can.
Marnie is sung in English with English surtitles.
|What||Marnie review , English National Opera|
English National Opera
London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES | MAP
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
18 Nov 17 – 03 Dec 17, 7:30 PM – 10:15 PM
|Price||£12 - £99|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|