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For a drama about deception and desire, it centers on a couple of naïve young people who don’t know what they want.
They never reveal themselves through words, and the music doesn’t step in and do it for them. Brian believes in Jake’s flimsy creations, even though we can’t.
The two of them communicate in generic pellets of language that flicker on a wall-size screen: All this clipped indirection boxes the composer in.
Little cryptic fragments of melody overlap while the orchestra carries the expressive weight.
Muhly has invoked Benjamin Britten as an influence, and there are multiple echoes of in the vinegary harmonies, in the shocked outsider peering into the creepy fantasy life of children, even in the appearance of a menacing servant named Peter.
With its chugging orchestration and unhurried vocal lines, the musical language of also recalls the techniques of Philip Glass and John Adams. Dispensing with his forebears’ endless, blissed-out burblings, he will use a patterned chord to sketch in a jittery mood, then quickly move on.
Sure enough, in a reedy 13-year-old named Jake goes online and populates his world with stock figures out of bad TV: a secret agent, a thuggish groundskeeper, a privileged coquette. The impressive boy soprano Andrew Pulver lends Jake his frail, fresh voice, then lets other, adult cast members take over and utter what he types.
Yet the opera never enjoys the sense of liberation that a costume can grant: It feels hobbled by reticence.
The boys, who spend their lives on laptops, know each other only by their chat room handles, but their real-life encounter hardly registers in the score.In Sher’s conception, even the boys’ minds can’t seem to conceive much color or beauty, only an environment as grim and gray as a postindustrial city in England.Muhly is a devoted blogger and Twitter user, but Strawson is the audience's proxy and a Luddite, so we wind up seeing the Internet from the perspective of the stodgiest character, as a foreign country of soulless children and linguistic horrors.What powers the scene is the analogue Anglicanism — its pomp and hymnody, and the lush, consoling gentleness that permeates Muhly’s music at its best.If you could build a whole opera out of such ravishing set pieces, would be a masterwork.