Nico Muhly’s many opinions on polygamists, opera and idiocy

David Patrick Stearns in Arts Journal:

Nico_muhly1-300x200The brash young composer Nico Muhly – much to the surprise of many but probably not to himself – turned out to be right.

When his opera Dark Sisters was premiered in New York City in November, many believed the ever prolific Muhly (yes, even more prolific than his longtime employer Philip Glass) had rushed through the composition of a chamber opera about Church of Latter-Day Saints splinter groups that practice polygamy in remote outposts of the southwestern United States. The disappointment extended beyond the critics and operagoers hearing it for the first time on opening night. There was much grumbling within the industry that problems that were clearly apparent in the workshop preceding the premiere but hadn’t been addressed at all. Some of his fellow composers were secretly scathing.

Oh well. There was always the revival the following June at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, where the smallish, congenial Perelman Theater has come to be seen as one of the ideal chamber opera venues in the Northeast. Even then, Muhly, librettist Stephen Karam and director Rebecca Taischman declined to have another workshop. They were all busy and sensed that changes could be made in the few weeks of rehearsal prior to the Opera Company of Philadelphia opening.

And yet … Dark Sisters wasn’t just a hit with critics who were lukewarm first time around. The opera was a considerable popular success with audiences. Word of mouth was uniformly positive. Here was something fresh, challenging and new that wasn’t beyond the grasp of an average operagoer hearing it for the first time. And in Philadelphia – a place known to fear the cutting edge.

What changed?

More here.