A Story Retold by Alfred Hitchcock is Now an Opera and a Suite for Orchestra

Jan 22, 2019

The psychological thriller that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's 1964 film Marnie has been reborn in Nico Mulhy's opera, and has also spawned a new suite for orchestra. WRTI's Susan Lewis has more.

Listen to the Metropolitan Opera's production of Nico Muhly's MARNIE on WRTI 90.1 on Saturday, January 26 at 1 PM

Hitchcock's film, starring Tippie Hedren and Sean Connery, took its plot from Winston Graham's novel, Marnie, which was set in the '50s: a young woman embezzler who has been moving around and changing her identity, is caught and coerced into marriage.

Composer Nico Muhly's opera Marnie premiered in London in 2017; from the opera, he created an orchestral suite commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra.

The story, now nearly six decades old, dovetails with today's heightened awareness of issues of gender and power dynamics. "This woman is put into essentially economic blackmail," says Muhly.  "She will be sent to jail unless she marries this guy. It feels especially poignant now and much of the more current revelations were happening as we built the piece in London. So those things are layered in pretty significantly." 

In writing the opera, Muhly paired solo instruments with certain characters: an oboe for Marnie, a trombone doubling her husband Mark, a viola representing her mother. 

Then when he turned to his orchestral suite, Liar, "it was relatively simple to assemble something that made sense in terms of those instruments working together."  

"Because there was already a sense in which the orchestra was playing a narrative part," he says, "a lot of my work was done for me in terms of creating a sense of dramatic structure in an orchestral piece. Deploying the orchestra do to psychological work, is really exciting. "