Two Boys is an opera in two acts by American composer Nico Muhly, with an English-language libretto by American playwright Craig Lucas. The opera's story is based on real events in Manchester, England, in 2001 as described in a 2005 Vanity Fair article titled "You Want Me 2 Kill Him?"[1]

Muhly's opera was first performed by the English National Opera (ENO) in London on 24 June 2011, directed by Bartlett Sher.[2] It was performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in October and November 2013. The ENO and the Met shared the initial production costs.[3][4]

Using the narrative structure of a police investigation into a violent crime, the opera explores the world of online relationships and chatrooms, and was billed by the ENO as "a cautionary tale of the dark side of the internet."[2]

Nonesuch Records released the first recording of the piece, from the Metropolitan Opera production, in 2014.[5]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 24 June 2011[6]
Conductor: Rumon Gamba
Metropolitan Opera premiere cast, 21 October 2013[7]
Conductor: David Robertson
Detective Inspector Anne Strewson mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley Alice Coote
Brian tenor Nicky Spence Paul Appleby
Rebecca soprano Mary Bevan Jennifer Zetlan
Jake (avatar) baritone Jonathan McGovern Christopher Bolduc
Jake (real) boy soprano Joseph Beesley Andrew Pulver
Fiona mezzo-soprano Heather Shipp Sandra Piques Eddy
Anne's mother mezzo-soprano Valerie Reid Judith Forst
Liam (Detective Constable) tenor Philip Daggett Dennis Petersen
Peter bass-baritone Robert Gleadow Keith Miller
Cynthia, Jake's mother soprano Anne-Clare Monk Caitlin Lynch
Brian's mother mezzo-soprano Rebecca Stockland Maria Zifchak
Brian's father baritone Paul Napier-Burrows Kyle Pfortmiller
Doctor bass Michael Burke Marco Nisticò
Celebrant tenor Geraint Hylton Richard Cox
American Congressman tenor Anton Rich Noah Baetge
American Congressional Page tenor Peter Kirk Juan José León
American Suburban Girl soprano Eleanor Burke Ashley Emerson
American Suburban moms sopranos Clare Mitcher, Claire Pendleton Anne Nonnemacher, Maria D'Amato


Two Boys opened to mixed reviews from the British press. William Hartstone in the Daily Express called it "thoroughly modern opera, both disturbing and challenging".[8] Edward Seckerson writing in The Independent praised the composition, libretto and staging, calling it "an auspicious operatic debut."[9]

David Gillard writing in the Daily Mail, said, "A compelling opera for our time inspired by real-life internet crime," while conceding that the overall evening was "static".[10] George Hall, writing in The Stage, praised the libretto, but called Muhly's music "a commonplace and ultimately thin soundtrack accompaniment".[11] Rupert Christiansen, writing in The Daily Telegraph, described it as "a bit of a bore – dreary and earnest rather than moving and gripping, and smartly derivative rather than distinctively individual". He continued, "It sounds more intriguing than it is, because Muhly signally fails to build the narrative into a sound melodramatic structure. Although the opera isn't long, it seems so, plodding along without substantial contrast of pace or mood, and never reaching a satisfactory climax."[12]

In the New York Times, Zachary Woolfe wrote: "Serious and radiant, Two Boys is a landmark in the career of an important artist. Confidently staking his claim to the operatic tradition, Mr. Muhly has added to it a work of dark beauty."[13] The Bloomberg review began by quoting Muhly's PR tagline as "the hottest composer on the planet", concluding "Whichever planet that is, it must be a pretty tepid one." The review also faulted the libretto which "moves with such exasperating slowness, that if the audience hasn't worked things out by Act II, then they're probably asleep or sensibly diverting their mental energy elsewhere."[14] The opera elicited unkind comparisons to police procedurals on TV. The Independent dismissed it as "Prime Suspect with a soundtrack of semi-skimmed Glass."[15] In The Guardian, which has frequently commissioned guest columns from Muhly, Andrew Clements dismissed the opera as "a bland mid-Atlantic compromise" with a musical idiom "pitched somewhere between recent Philip Glass and the John Adams of The Death of Klinghoffer."[16] Writing in The Londonist, Sam Smith concurred, "Muhly's interesting but can feel underwhelming and derivative."[17] So So Gay panned the production as "an operatic misadventure" and "a dreary letdown", and agreeing that the music "is minimalist to the point of being unexciting".[18] In The Financial Times, Andrew Clark felt the opera was underwhelming and that "the fault lies in Muhly's generic minimalism. The orchestral accompaniment, rarely breaking out of a steady moderato, has the quality of a soundtrack. Vocal lines are singable but impersonal...'Accessible' hovers over every bar."[19]


Nonesuch Records released the first recording of Two Boys, from the Metropolitan Opera production, on September 30, 2014.[5]


  1. ^ Bachrach, Judy (February 2005). "You Want Me 2 Kill Him?". Vanity Fair. 
  2. ^ a b Two Boys production details, English National Opera 
  3. ^ Wakin, Daniel J. (13 February 2010). "Muhly and Lucas's Opera First Met-Lincoln Center Project". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  4. ^ "Sher to Stage Lucas-Muhly Opera at the Met and English National Opera" Archived 2012-10-13 at the Wayback Machine. by Adam Hetrick, Playbill (12 February 2010)
  5. ^ a b >"Recording of Metropolitan Opera Production of Nico Muhly's Two Boys Out Now on Nonesuch". Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Nico Muhly's Two Boys at English National Opera" by Mark Berry, 27 June 2011
  7. ^
  8. ^ William Hartston (29 June 2011), "Opera Review: Two Boys, English Nantional Opera", Daily Express 
  9. ^ Edward Seckerson (25 June 2011), "Two Boys, English National Opera", The Independent 
  10. ^ David Gillard (1 July 2011), "Two Boys: A compelling opera for our time inspired by real-life internet crime", Daily Mail 
  11. ^ George Hall (27 June 2011), "Two Boys", The Stage 
  12. ^ Rupert Christiansen (27 June 2011), "Two Boys, ENO, review", The Daily Telegraph 
  13. ^ Woolfe, Zachary, "On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Youngster With Issues", The New York Times, June 30, 2011
  14. ^ Bloomberg (26 June 2011), "Psychopaths Haunt Classrooms in Nico Muhly's Two Boys: Review", SF Gate [dead link]
  15. ^ Picard, Anna (26 June 2011), "Two Boys, Coliseum, London – Seven Angels, CBSO Centre, Birmingham – Das Rheingold, Town Hall, Leeds", The Independent 
  16. ^ Clements, Andrew (25 June 2011), "Two Boys - review", The Guardian 
  17. ^ Smith, Sam (28 June 2011), "Opera Review: Two Boys @ Coliseum", The Londonist 
  18. ^ Waygood, James (4 July 2011), "Opera Review: Two Boys", So So Gay 
  19. ^ Clark, Andrew (27 June 2011), "Two Boys, Coliseum, London", The Financial Times