Left wanting more: ENO's Marnie

Left wanting more: ENO's Marnie

Sasha Cooke in ENO's Marnie, 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

This weekend I saw the ENO's production of Nico Muhly's Marnie. Based on a novel by Winston Graham which later became a Hitchcock film, the story is full of suspense and drama. Visually beautiful and very cleverly staged, using moving set pieces and projections to provide film-like transitions between scenes, the production was rich to look at, full of eye-catching tableaus and scenes. The costuming was very effective as well, particularly on Marnie herself and her quartet of Shadow Marnies who followed her throughout the show.

ENO's Marnie, 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

Musically, I found the work a little too predictable at times - I wanted something fresh, something with more suspense and dramatic intensity. The music was often quite beautiful, but didn't quite serve the level of grimy darkness the story has. The vocal writing, too, seemed awkward. Often the phrases were bogged down by a huge number of words in the libretto and it seemed that the density of the orchestration made it very difficult to understand the text.

ENO's Marnie, 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

That being said, there were some wonderful moments, especially with the chorus. I particularly liked the music written for the Shadow Marnies, and actually would have liked to hear more from them.

Katie Coventry, Charlotte Beament, Sasha Cooke, Katie Stevenson, and Emma Kerr in ENO's Marnie, 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

I wasn't convinced this particular story was served well by becoming an opera. The sense of suspense and unease which characterises the film didn't transfer onto the stage at all. Particularly, the climactic scene of the novel, a hunt on horseback, seemed somewhat stunted. It was very creative and clever staging, with projected horses running and action on stage from dancers. However, it just didn't read with the level of intensity it seemed to require.

Sasha Cooke and Daniel Okulitch in ENO's Marnie, 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

Overall, the whole piece lacked the suspense and drama I wanted from a story like this - the music too, seemed without the suspense and darkness needed to portray a story like this one.

James Laing and Sasha Cooke in ENO's Marnie, 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

The production had a huge cast, including a full chorus who directed the drama on stage as crowds of office workers, hunters and party goers. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke starred as Marnie. She navigated the long and difficult role with vocal nuance and confidence. I would have liked a little more intensity from her on stage at times - her characterisation of Marnie seemed to lack an underlying sense of unease.

Sasha Cooke and dancers in ENO's Marnie, 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

Her husband (Mark Rutland) was played by Daniel Okulitch, who had wonderful voice which he used to great expressive effect and drama. His Mark Rutland was a very complex and interesting character, fully realised on the stage, both reprehensible and pityable. Also worth mentioning was countertenor James Laing as Terry. He was slimey and easy to dislike, balanced with beautiful, clear singing and excellent musicianship.

ENO's Marnie, 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

The musical level from all the performers was very high, led by Martyn Brabbins in a colourful reading of the lush musical language Muhly created for this piece.

Marnie runs at English National Opera through December 3. For deatils and ticket information, follow our box office links below.

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Written by

Vivian Darkbloom

Vivian Darkbloom

Vivian is a musicologist, writer, foodie and lover of strange music. Her favourite composers are Schnittke, Lachenmann, Ravel, Nancarrow and Muhly. In her spare time, she can be seen learning french with an appropriate amount of cheese and wine to complement.

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  • Marnie


    Marnie is a compelling psychological thriller set in England during the late 1950s. A young woman makes her way through life by embezzling from her employers, before she moves on and changes her identity. When her current boss Mark Rutland catches her red-handed, he blackmails her into a loveless marriage. Marnie is left with no choice but to confront the hidden trauma from her past.

    Following Two Boys in 2011, this is the composer Nico Muhly’s second world premiere for ENO. With a libretto by Nicholas Wright, Marnie is based on the novel by Winston Graham, by special arrangement with Universal Pictures. It examines the cost of freedom, the limitations of forgiveness and the impossibility of escaping the past, in music that is direct and powerful.

    Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer makes his UK opera debut, collaborating with ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins. Grammy Award-winning mezzo Sasha Cooke sings the title role, while acclaimed bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch sings Mark Rutland. They are joined by ENO favourite Lesley Garrett.


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