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"Marnie" on Stage & Screen

To celebrate the American premiere on October 19th at the Metropolitan Opera of Nico Muhly’s adaptation of the classic Winston Graham novel, Marnie, the Film Society of Lincoln Center—on the evening of Thursday, September 21st—screened Alfred Hitchcock’s astonishing film version of the same work, at the Walter Reade Theater, preceded by a panel discussion with the opera’s director, Michael Mayer, and its librettist, Nicholas Wright, moderated by the company’s dramaturge, Paul Cremo.

Mayer explained the genesis of the opera lay in his re-seeing the film on television, which prompted him to read the novel, after which he proposed the idea of commissioning an adaptation to the company’s director, Peter Gelb, with the suggestion that Muhly compose the score—a few years before he had composed a previous commission, the excellent and acclaimed Two Boys. With Muhly’s acceptance, Wright—who had coincidentally just read the novel himself— was approached to write the libretto as was the superb and gorgeous mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, who agreed to play the lead. Wright commented on how the Metropolitan Opera has a superb chorus whose potentialities it would have been foolish not to exploit, thus allowing him to communicate crucial elements of the story with resources unavailable either to film or to narrative prose. Mayer added that the opera is narratively closer to the novel, if visually closer to the movie.

Mayer and Wright both see Hitchcock’s version as flawed if powerful but auteurists have long recognized this as the director’s final masterwork and it was glorious to have an opportunity to revisit it on the large screen in a 35mm print. One hopes that Muhly’s eagerly anticipated adaptation will contribute to the movie’s growing esteem.

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