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  • 'Not to go unsung' – Muhly's Two Boys at ENO


    I got a £34 ticket in the front row of the upper balcony for £10, where empty seats there were more plentiful than in the packed arena above – where sat cost-conscious youth. So not a great commercial success. Does Mulhy pull off this attempt at using 'conventional' opera to bring social networking to the stage?

    I certainly enjoyed the show, but with some major reservations. It had the clarity that so won over Edward Seckerson in his five star Independent review. Too trite to say this was because of it's lack of sophistication, but musically it lacked depth, dynamics and impact, save for the final, climactic ensemble scene. The orchestral music in particular is way down the list of what impressed. There's also naïvete about the libretto which was irritating. Did it have to be dumbed down for its conservative Metropolitan Opera commissioners? Some of the lines were either just daft or merely prosaic. A middle-aged DI who doesn't know what a server is? At least the chat speak made for some entertaining surtitles.

    No wonder the music sounds a bit like washed out Britten: the wicked boy-loving gardener is a Peter (Grimes?) There's even gamelan. The vocal writing and performances especially are excellent, particularly Susan Bickley as the Detective, Nicky Spence as Brian and young Joseph Beesley as boy treble Jake. Visually it's impressive - all grey and monolithic, with huge whirling projections that map the net. The chorus gaze moodily into their eerily bright laptops and sing out in silhouette on the stairs of the two towers on which the internet chat that drives the story is projected.

    Overall verdict: dramatically it's a compelling enough old style whodunnit with the bonus of sordid webchat fumblings (if you like that kind of thing) 'in the netherworld where there is nothing but cheerless cheer'. The singers are stunning, and the music has its moments, but too much of it lacks real impact. From the enthusiastic applause, 'Two Boys' was a hit with a mostly much younger, geekier crowd than is usual at ENO, if not with the group of twentieth century music enthusiasts that I spoke to in the interval. The internet brought them together, but Muhly's opera about its sinister side had failed to impress. Elsewhere the iPhones were glowing praise even before the conductor took his bow. Muhly can only get better, I hope.

    Credit RH Smith

    Two differing reviews from blogs:

    ENO plugs Seckerson's review

  • Early influences on Crouwel, and his legacy


    I very much enjoyed a visit to the Wim Crouwel exhibition on its closing day at the Design Museum. Looking at the show's design, which is very much in the spirit of his work, I was struck by a line in a video interview shown there. He attributes much of his success to an early collaboration with Chinese architect Kho Liang Ie, saying (if I paraphrase correctly) that he very much responded to the Eastern sensibilty in Kho Liang Ie's work, with its emphasis on atmosphere and simplicity.

    Crouwel's huge influence and the freshness – even today – of his designs prove his success. Work by Peter Saville, Banks & Miles and 8vo were among many very evidently inspired by Crouwel. They also featured at the Design Museum. The exhibition asserts that Crouwel single-handedly defined the graphic look of Holland – from his work in the sixties on Schiphol to enumerable logos for companies like Fasson, Fodor, Makro, Rabobank and Randstad. The radical simplicity of these logo designs is very recognisably Crouwel, but how much has he caught the 'atmosphere' of the organisations?


    Grids and fonts like Univers (and not necessarily Helvetica) continue to be key in his work. Some strikingly creative calendars were among my personal favourites. Crouwel is by no means averse to serifs, and attributes much of his early success to a fantastic relationship with an ideal client who only criticised his work after it had been published. If only they were all like that. In another memorable quote he describes a book 'as a three dimensional grid'. At almost 83, Crouwel is still productively and creatively working.

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    It's a pity that the slim and small format catalogue was so expensive at £17 and that it resorts to tricksy photography to show a great man's work.

    These are useful links:


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