New York (AFP) – A powerhouse trio of American songs will perform the voice of Virginia Woolf on the prestigious stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, as the highly anticipated series of “The Hours” makes its world premiere on Tuesday.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Oscar-nominated film explore how the threads of English writer Woolf’s ‘Mrs. themes such as mental illness and alienation from tradition haunt its protagonists.
The production began with a pitch from Renee Fleming, widely regarded as America’s leading soprano of her generation, whose role as the show’s Clarissa Vaughan marks her return to the Met after bidding farewell to her hallmark role in ‘Der Rosenkavalier. by Strauss in 2017.
“It was perfect for opera because of the complexity of dealing with three periods,” Fleming said of “The Hours,” whose music was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts.
“Music gives a kind of river, which we can all float on – together or apart,” Fleming said of the three-part production.
Fleming’s Vaughan – a 1990s New Yorker who mirrors the character of Clarissa Dalloway, and whose plot centers on her planning a party for a friend, a renowned poet dying of AIDS – is joined on stage by the Broadway star and operatic Kelli O’ Hara, who plays the depressed 1950s housewife Laura Brown.
Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato plays the struggling Woolf herself.
“The possibilities were so exciting,” composer Puts told AFP, saying “what you can do in music that you can’t really accomplish in a movie or a book is you can start to present all three stories…simultaneously.”
“The idea of presenting these stories musically and then gradually bringing them together, until maybe the three leading ladies were singing trios together, was a really exciting idea,” Puts continued.
“I loved the book so much, and I felt like I had the musical vocabulary for it.”
For Fleming – who, before collaborating with Puts on “The Hours”, was putting together a song cycle by the composer, which was inspired by the writings of artist Georgia O’Keefe – part of the appeal of this project and her latest endeavor was to tell stories of powerful women.
“Too many times in opera, historically, women have been sort of pawns,” she told AFP. “They were victims, they were really at the center of power struggles when they had no power or agency.”
“I want to tell stories of extraordinary women now.”
Along with the strength of the show’s voice, “The Hours” incorporates modern dance in a way rarely seen in traditional operas, with dozens of performers physically manifesting the emotions of the characters.
Choreographer Annie-B Parson – who has worked with Mikhail Baryshnikov, David Byrne and David Bowie – told AFP her process was generally “less narrative, more about the worlds I’m trying to create”.
“We spent a lot of choreographic money on how to animate and inhabit the actual physical set and moving parts,” she said; The Met’s stage is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, allowing for complex sets including at different levels.
“I liked the idea that these dancing beings would be the nerve – the interstitial physical animation of the whole thing,” Parson said.
Fleming said productions like “The Hours” can play a vital role in refreshing the operatic experience and attracting new audiences, a major goal the Met is working towards, including staging “Fire Shut Up In My Bones” by Terence Blanchard last year.
The soprano stressed the need to continue to bring in composers from diverse backgrounds and to give women more and more important creative roles.
The Grammy-winning performer herself was the first woman in Met history to headline a solo season-opening gala in 2008.
“All of our art forms should truly represent our people,” Fleming said.
“The Hours” runs at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan from November 22 to December 15.
© 2022 AFP