‘The Hours’ changes again – from book to movie to All-Star Opera


The most striking and effective in the opera adaptation of the Metropolitan Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra Doors (until December 15), directed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, takes full advantage of the narrative advantage of the three main female characters on stage.

That physical closeness, and Phelim McDermott’s intelligent reading of Michael Cunningham’s bestseller (score by Kevin Puts and libretto by Greg Pierce), brings the correspondence and echoes between feminist writer Virginia Woolf (Joyce DiDonato) to an intimate and suggestive life. in 1923, Laura Brown (Kelli O’Hara), a housewife from Los Angeles in 1949, and book editor Clarissa Vaughan (Renée Fleming) in New York in 1999.

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

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The central recurring reverberation between the eras is the novel Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf writes it in her portion; Laura reads it in hers; and Clarissa not only shares the protagonist’s first name, but she (like the original Mrs. D) is planning a party – this one for Richard (Kyle Ketelson), her old friend and novelist with AIDS, who has had enough of his life. He even calls her Mrs. Dalloway – the modern day Clarissa is said to possess the charisma of her fictional antecedent.

As in Cunningham’s novel and Stephen Daldry’s multi-nominated and 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 seat, a large clock on stage shows the real time ticking away.

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On stage, a rather poky portion of each of the women’s houses (sets and costumes by Tom Pye) symbolize them and their eras. The three pieces of era-specific ring sound strangely insignificant, but the curtains that unfold dramatically around them are pervasive additions to the swings of time and circumstances ahead. We have the yellow sun of Laura’s kitchen where she’s 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 restlessness as she her bed is . She loves her family, but she’s shriveled up inside.

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Suicide, the specter and the dissatisfaction, haunts all three women. Leonard Woolf (Sean Panikkar) is terrified that Virginia will directly or indirectly harm herself – DiDonato plays her twitchy with rage at interruptions, at the desperate ministries of her husband and maid Nelly (Eve Gigliotti). She wants to write, to be left alone, and later suicidal fantasies will begin to haunt her. Meanwhile, Clarissa, who lives on a brick wall with partner Sally (Denyce Graves), is decked out in angelic white. It may only be one day, but moments of change are about to unfold for all three women. They share pain, longing, depression, determination – all the while battling an invisible clock.

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

Evan Zimmerman/With Opera

The opera lasts about three hours, with one intermission. The first half is about two hours, the last about an hour, meaning the first half has the languorous feel of an unfolding novel, or the most discursive parts of the movie. Some, like this critic, will enjoy the slow unfolding; some may find it a hindrance.

Unlike both of its predecessors, the opera introduces a bizarre human chorus to fill the stage. This chorus seems to be an expression of the women’s fears and impulses, feeling cluttered and unnecessary, except when something visually inventive is done, such as raising many flowers in the air – flowers are the predominant symbol in Mrs. Dalloway and in Doorsof mourning, joy and reflection. The gray-clad chorus marches and flows back and forth, like some kind of army of misery. If their presence is symbolic, it is exaggerated and exaggerated; the women tell us how they feel anyway.

What Clarissa’s unexpected kiss with florist Barbara (Kathleen Kim) means is Clarissa’s less-well-told B-story, her failing relationship with Sally—one of the most unfairly endorsed characters on stage for this critic. Clarissa tells us how badly she wants to escape the relationship, but we only see Sally wisely and quietly supporting her partner – exactly what’s wrong with them, and why she’s “dumb,” as Clarissa calls her, has never been made clear . Sally and Denyce Graves deserve better.

The audience at the gala opening on Tuesday night was understandably ecstatic to see three such big stars on stage together, and standing ovations were deservedly given. O’Hara played the role most convincingly to the audience, giving Doorsmost touching strand to his vital heart, and also leading to one of the show’s most quietly stunning moments – her transformation from young Laura to old Laura right in front of us, as she prepares to meet Clarissa, and we see the little Richie we see in the 1950s is the adult Richard in 1999. DiDonato gave Woolf a keen sense of authority-meets-otherness. Fleming’s voice seemed more subdued, which – coupled with her character’s constantly anguished and anguished expression – somewhat froze the transfer of her performance.

The second half slips or slips too quickly from one emotional transition to another to a weakly worded conclusion.

The aftermath of the stage’s most tragic event—and we’re told time and time again that someone will die on this day—felt like a rush to find optimism, a bizarrely undermining choice if Doors on its way to its conclusion.

Most notably, the opera also makes the decision not to adapt one of the film adaptation’s most stunning sequences: Virginia’s suicidal walk in the river, which opens and ends the film. Instead, we see a kind of mash-up of some of her last words, and words that were said to Leonard when he found her on a train station platform – and she ends up living until 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 expressed conclusion – which, far from an implied suicide, is a collective statement is. that life is life, and that we all live it here, and that we should make the most of it with the love and people we have around us. The film chose death as a limiting theme, the opera chooses life.

This, though resonant and beautifully sung by DiDonato, O’Hara and Fleming – their characters now linked, having escaped time – seemed like a limp, inadequate endnote to the sublime emotional knots and interrogations of what came before. Perhaps Doors could use an extra hour – and another break – to really give the women the time they need to reach more richly realized destinations.



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