Overview | ‘The Hours’ ought to have made an incredible opera. It isn’t.


On the floor, “The Hours” is a narrative that begs for an operatic remedy. The acclaimed 1998 novel by Michael Cunningham gained the Pulitzer Prize for its intimate portrait of a single day within the lives of three girls within the twentieth century separated by time however united in despair.

In 2003, a movie adaptation by Stephen Daldry boosted the cultural cachet of the novel, incomes 9 Oscar nominations and a win for Nicole Kidman as the middle of gravity within the story, Virginia Woolf, and her novel “Mrs. Dalloway.”

Daldry rounded out his energy trio of leads with Meryl Streep (as Clarissa Vaughan, a busy editor in Nineties Manhattan, making an attempt to throw a celebration for her erstwhile lover Richard, dying from AIDS) and Julianne Moore (as Laura Brown, an anguished spouse and mom considering escape from the idyllic Los Angeles suburbs of 1949).

With its built-in trifecta of divas, deep literary roots, huge historic attain, plumbing psychological depth and delicately woven timelines, “The Hours” as an opera was only a matter of time. (Even the unique movie rating by Philip Glass appeared like an associative nudge towards the opera home.)

However typically having all of it will be multiple wants, as demonstrated by the world premiere on the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday of “The Hours,” directed by Phelim McDermott (“Akhnaten”) and composed by Kevin Places to a libretto by Greg Pierce.

Regardless of robust singing from three celebrity leads — soprano Renée Fleming as Clarissa, soprano Kelli O’Hara as Laura and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Virginia — the story feels each overstuffed and undertold.

McDermott’s administration of the three timelines is environment friendly and architecturally sound. Seamless transitions from one period (or facet of the stage) to the subsequent are facilitated by mild vocal overlaps and skillful orchestration. Places’s music cleverly delineates the sound worlds of every lady, capturing the furrowed angst of Virginia, the illusory glamour of Laura’s picture-perfect domesticity, the busy cosmopolitan din of Clarissa’s day-to-day.

The music is imbued with the sounds of passing time: Clanging clock chimes register the hours going by, and a shimmering sublayer of strings programs beneath like a river. Greater than as soon as, Places appears to revert to the repetitive figures and melodic eddys of Glass’s movie rating, and it was onerous to inform whether or not they’re winks or lapses.

However the subtleties and nuances of Cunningham’s prose and Daldry’s digital camera, which each supply a sustained gaze into the inside lives of the characters, typically really feel trampled by McDermott’s manufacturing, which is overly busy with sluggishly wheeled-out set items, choral mobs and often distracting dancers. For the primary of its two acts, “The Hours” is an train in unchecked maximalism. I worry a bit of for these getting into unfamiliar with the supply materials: Its triple-vision typically resolves right into a blur.

Tom Pye’s set designs deploy realist fragments of every lady’s milieu: Clarissa and her live-in lover, Sally (fantastically sung by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves), put together for his or her occasion in a glossy trendy loft. Laura unsuccessfully bakes a birthday cake for her husband in a kitchen lifted from the pages of “Higher Properties & Gardens.”

Virginia paces round her room of 1’s personal, furnished with solely a writing desk. We additionally go to the room on the Normandy Lodge the place Laura retreats for the afternoon, in addition to poor Richard’s dilapidated condominium, with its papered home windows and precarious top above avenue stage.

I typically discovered myself sympathizing with the refrain members, who have been blessed with a few of Places’s most compelling music however burdened with consistently assembling and dissembling the set. Solely within the second act did “The Hours” attain a number of the essential lightness and delicacy of Cunningham’s telling. An attractive flashback scene as Clarissa remembers an early go to to Wellfleet with Richard got here to life by means of a single unfurled scrim of cloth. One other second-act stretch discovered the singers adrift towards a black void. In most each case on Tuesday, much less was extra, however we desperately wanted extra much less.

These in it strictly for the singing won’t depart dissatisfied. Fleming struggled to be heard by means of the primary act, her voice all however vanishing into the orchestra, attentively performed by Met music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. However she dominated the second act, particularly in her devastating duet with the unraveling Richard, perched on his windowsill, a star flip for bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, whose highly effective voice expertly captured the character’s battle and frailty.

DiDonato made an uncanny Woolf and is a far stronger actress than I may need guessed. She embodied the creator in posture and carriage. Her voice — gleaming, golden, beneficiant, marvelously full — harnessed a uncooked depth that felt proper. (Particularly so throughout her discomforting burial of a useless hen, as near a mad scene as we get.)

I used to be most impressed by O’Hara, a fully electrical presence onstage, and essentially the most impactful efficiency of the night. Her small discuss with Kitty (splendidly sung by Sylvia D’Eramo) over manufacturers of prompt espresso intensifies into a few of Put’s most rapturous music, and a kiss that sends her spinning.

Particular recognition goes to the younger Kai Edgar, who was phenomenal as younger Richie, and soprano Kathleen Kim, who was a breath of contemporary air as each Barbara (the lady on the flower store) and Mrs. Latch (the babysitter for younger Richie whereas Laura was close to unraveling).

Graves and tenor William Burden (as Richard’s former lover Louis) have been shock delights among the many robust supporting forged. Countertenor John Vacation gave thrilling vocal turns as a mysterious “Man Beneath the Arch” and a lodge clerk on the Normandy, although it was almost unimaginable to make heads or tails of his ghostly place within the story.

With a lot happening, I used to be shocked to go away feeling like simply as a lot was lacking. The unusual unstated tensions between Laura and little Richie, that are so essential to setting up the second-act twist, have been inadequately developed. Older Richard’s storyline, too, felt barely underexamined, although his remaining scene introduced a chilling silence over the home.

The River Ouse, which appears to ship us into the opera, by no means returns. We by no means see Virginia load her pockets with stones and wander into its depths. As a substitute, we get a musically stunning however conceptually confounding finale that I cannot spoil however that jogged my memory of Richard’s nervousness over his personal masterpiece, a celebrated novel with a “tacked-on ending.”

On the finish of “The Hours,” you can see your self energized by Places’s splendid shape-shifting rating, or the triple risk of its leads, or the richness of this multilayered narrative. However you may also wonder if three arcs may need been higher served by three acts. In any case, there’s solely a lot time within the day.

The Hours By Dec. 15 on the Metropolitan Opera, New York. metopera.com.

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