“The Hours” are turning again, from book to film to all-star opera

The most striking and effective in the opera adaptation of the Metropolitan Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra The hours (until Dec. 15), conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, takes advantage of the narrative advantage of having its three main female characters on stage.

This physical closeness and Phelim McDermott’s intelligent reading of Michael Cunningham’s best-selling novel (score by Kevin Puts and libretto by Greg Pierce) evoke the correspondences and echoes between the 1923 feminist writer Virginia Woolf (Joyce DiDonato) Laura Brown (Kelli O’ Hara), a housewife in Los Angeles in 1949, and book editor Clarissa Vaughan (Renée Fleming) in New York in 1999.

The book and film formats make this joint stage presence impossible; here instead we see scenes and voices that sometimes overlap, or characters that remain on stage in silent or semi-frozen calm while another character acts out a scene.

The central recurring echo between the epochs is the novel Mrs Dalloway. Woolf writes it in her section; Laura reads it in her; and Clarissa not only shares the protagonist’s first name, but (like the original Mrs. D) she’s planning a party – this one for Richard (Kyle Ketelson), her longtime friend and novelist with AIDS who’s had enough of his life. He even calls her Mrs. Dalloway – the modern day Clarissa supposedly possesses the charisma of her fictional progenitor.

Just as in Cunningham’s novel and Stephen Daldry’s multi-award-winning 2002 film (for which Nicole Kidman won an Oscar as Woolf), we follow a day in the lives of all three women. As you take your seats, a large clock on the stage shows the time ticking down in real life.

On stage, a rather puny looking part of each women’s shelter (set and costumes by Tom Pye) symbolizes them and their eras. The three panes of period-specific decor sound oddly insubstantial, but the draperies that unfold dramatically around them are piercing complements to the fluctuations in time and circumstances before us. We have the yellow sun of Laura’s kitchen, where she is determined to bake a cake for husband Dan (Brandon Cedel) with the help of son Richie (young Kai Edgar), but we immediately see Laura’s depression and anxiety as she lying on her bed. She loves her family, but she’s shrinking inside.

Suicide, its specter and dissatisfaction, haunts all three women. Leonard Woolf (Sean Panikkar) is terrified that Virginia could harm herself, directly or indirectly – DiDonato plays her convulsing in anger at interruptions, at the desperate pleas of her husband and maid Nelly (Eve Gigliotti) for food. She wants to write, to be left alone, and later they are plagued by suicidal fantasies. Meanwhile, Clarissa, who lives in a brick loft with her partner Sally (Denyce Graves), is dressed in angelic white. It may only be one day, but moments of change lie ahead for all three women. They share anguish, desire, depression, determination – all the while battling an invisible clock.

Kelli O’Hara as Laura Brown, Renee Fleming as Clarissa Vaughan and Joyce DiDonato as Virginia Woolf in The Hours.

Evan Zimmerman/Met Opera

The opera lasts about three hours, with one intermission. The first half lasts about two hours, the last about an hour – meaning the first half has that languid feel of an unfolding novel or the most discursive parts of the film. Some, like this critic, may enjoy the slow unfolding; some may find it difficult.

Unlike both of its progenitors, the opera introduces a bizarre human chorus to fill the stage. This chorus seems to be a manifestation of women’s fears and impulses, and feels cluttered and unnecessary unless it’s doing something visually imaginative, such as: B. Lifting up many flowers – flowers are the predominant symbol in Mrs. Dalloway and in The hours, of sadness, joy and reflection. The choir, dressed in gray, marches and flows back and forth like some kind of miserable army. If their presence is symbolic, it is exaggerated and overdone; After all, women tell us how they feel.

What Clarissa’s unexpected kiss with florist Barbara (Kathleen Kim) means is Clarissa’s less well-told b-story, her failing relationship with Sally – for this critic one of the most unfair characters on the stage. Clarissa shares with us how badly she wants to get away from the relationship, but all we ever see is that Sally is reasonably and quietly supporting her partner — what’s wrong with them and why she’s “silly,” as Clarissa calls her, is never made clear . Sally and Denyce Graves deserve better.

The audience at Tuesday night’s gala opening were understandably thrilled to see three such big stars take the stage together and received a fitting standing ovation. O’Hara performed the role most convincingly to the audience and gave The hoursIts most moving strand is its vital heart, and it also leads to one of the series’ quietest, most breathtaking moments – her transformation from young Laura to old Laura right in front of us as she prepares to meet Clarissa, and we see that the little Richie we see in the 1950s is grown Richard in 1999. DiDonato gave Woolf a keen sense of authority and otherness. Fleming’s voice came across as more restrained, which — coupled with her character’s constantly tormented and tormented facial expression — slightly froze the broadcast of her performance.

The second half slips or slides too quickly from one emotional transition to another to a poorly worded ending.

The aftermath of the most tragic event on stage – and we’re constantly told someone is going to die today – felt like a rush for optimism, a bizarrely undermining decision as The hours towards his graduation.

Most notably, the opera also makes the decision not to adapt one of the film’s most impressive sequences – Virginia’s suicidal walk into the river that opens and ends the film. Instead, we see a kind of mashup of some of her last words and words said to Leonard when he finds her on a train platform – and she ultimately lives to the end of the opera.

The stories of the three women are told so faithfully and carefully in the first half, the second half slips or slides too quickly from one emotional transition to another to a weakly worded conclusion – which, far from a suggested suicide, is a collective statement that life is life and we are all living it here and we should make the most of it with the love and people we have around us. The film chose death as the limiting theme, the opera life.

This, though sung melodiously and beautifully by DiDonato, O’Hara and Fleming – their characters now bonded, having escaped the confines of time – seemed like a fading, inadequate conclusion to the sublime emotional knots and interrogations of it , what had preceded. Maybe The hours could use an extra hour – and another break – to really give women the time they need to reach richer realized destinies.


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