‘Marnie’ in the #MeToo era

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Kuwait Times - - Lifestyle Features -

peras of­ten re­volve around flawed hero­ines who fall into tragic-even sor­did-love af­fairs. But rarely does one com­bine a Hitch­cock­ian edge, cos­tumes straight out of “Mad Men” and a sto­ry­line that feels tai­lor­made for the #MeToo era. “Marnie”-now mak­ing its US de­but at the Met in New York-tells the story of a glamorous yet troubled young woman in late 1950s Eng­land who em­bez­zles money from her em­ploy­ers and moves on. One theft too far leaves her prey to un­scrupu­lous men whose un­wanted ad­vances, crude even six decades ago, res­onate as Amer­ica stum­bles through a na­tion­wide reck­on­ing about sex­ual mis­con­duct.

“I wanted the au­di­ence to leave where they think, ‘I kind of like them and I kind of don’t like them’ all at the same time,” star Is­abel Leonard told AFP in an in­ter­view about her ti­tle char­ac­ter and the men around her. “So they’re left with some­thing to think about.” The opera is Nico Muhly’s re­work­ing of a dark 1961 novel by Win­ston Gra­ham that was later adapted for the sil­ver screen by Al­fred Hitch­cock-whose star Tippi He­dren has re­vealed that the leg­endary di­rec­tor re­peat­edly ha­rassed her. The for­mula and timely sub­ject mat­ter is cer­tainly a de­par­ture for the 135-year-old Met, but falls into its cur­rent strat­egy of try­ing to make the art form more ac­ces­si­ble to younger au­di­ences.

Af­ter see­ing the Hitch­cock film again a few years ago, di­rec­tor Michael Mayer pitched the idea to Met brass, who com­mis­sioned the work from Muhly, a young Amer­i­can com­poser who calls opera a “mag­i­cal id­iom.” “Marnie” will be simul­cast in cinemas world­wide this week­end as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” se­ries-an­other out­reach project aimed at draw­ing in new fans.

‘Ex­tra icky’ in post-We­in­stein world

“Marnie” opens with flash­ing im­ages of the show’s icy main char­ac­ter in var­i­ous in­car­na­tions past and present. The opera un­folds in a world of gray of­fices, tran­sient city bars and psy­cho­log­i­cal ten­sion. But Marnie and her madri­gal-like choir of Shad­ows-four other looka­likes who help ex­plain her in­ner turmoil-pop off the stage in bright-col­ored dresses and coats rem­i­nis­cent of the Tech­ni­color world of “Mad Men” and the Hitch­cock film. Muhly built the piece as a se­ries of episodes oc­ca­sion­ally bro­ken up by asides in which Marnie ru­mi­nates on what just hap­pened and plots her next move.

Th­ese in­ter­ludes “serve as mo­men­tary win­dows into her train of thought,” Muhly wrote in a note about the pro­duc­tion, adding that her mu­sic was writ­ten to be “dis­jointed” to re­flect her shat­tered state of mind.

The au­di­ence is forced to con­front some un­pleas­ant truths about Marnie’s prospects vis-a-vis men-the char­ac­ter is ogled, groped and nearly raped. But her re­la­tion­ships with men are left am­bigu­ous. To pre­pare for the part, Leonard, a mezzo-so­prano, said she read the Gra­ham book, but avoided the movie be­cause she didn’t want the im­ages to in­flu­ence her per­for­mance, and also be­cause she found the pre­view “sort of ex­ploita­tive.” The opera’s cre­ative team was in re­hearsal in Lon­don last fall when the Harvey We­in­stein story broke, ush­er­ing in the #MeToo era, Mayer re­called.

The pro­duc­tion has not been changed in light of those events, but the in­dig­ni­ties suf­fered by Marnie feel “ex­tra icky now be­cause we’re so hy­per-aware of the lines of be­hav­ior,” Mayer told AFP. “Th­ese men are treat­ing her in a wildly in­ap­pro­pri­ate way,” he said. “That would have been true 10 years ago and 40 and 50 years ago, but it just seems to have ex­tra res­o­nance at the mo­ment.” — AFP

A poster for “Marnie” is seen out­side the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera in New York. — AFP

De­liv­ery­men un­load pack­ages from a truck in Bei­jing ahead of the an­nual November 11 Sin­gles Day shop­ping spree. — AFP pho­tos

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