Tuesday, April 23

The Hours – Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

The world-premiere staging of Kevin Puts’ The Hours, adapted from Michael Cunningham’s acclaimed novel, which also served as the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film, arrives in cinemas worldwide this December. In her highly anticipated return to the Met, soprano Renée Fleming joins soprano Kelli O’Hara and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato to portray three women from different eras who grapple with their inner demons and their roles in society.

As Virginia Woolf (DiDonato) tinkers with the opening line of her new novel – Mrs Dalloway – in 1923 England, 1999 New York sees Clarissa Vaughan (Fleming) throwing a party for her friend Richard (Kyle Ketelsen), who is dying of AIDS, whilst in 1949 Los Angeles, Laura Brown (O’Hara) reads Mrs Dalloway in bed whilst dreading her duties as wife and mother on her husband’s birthday. Three women united in a need to escape and the terror of what they may find, the only thing we are constantly assured of as this one day unfolds is that someone will die.

It’s always a pleasure to see something completely new and Puts must have been over the moon to write an American opera for the Met; his score is evocative and haunting as it captures the changing mood at every turn with the transitions between the three periods particularly well-handled, with his intricate composition giving the orchestra plenty to do which they achieve with much relish as conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin oversees their performance of this powerful score.

Photo: Evan Zimmerman

The set and costume design from Tom Pye is simple and all the more effective for it as our period scenes are wheeled in and out, and occasionally, as with the kitchen, spun round to move seamlessly from technicolour post-war Americana to the minimalist and harsher raw brick at the end of the same century/ Whilst warmer, natural pigments captured 1930’s England, the overall use of colour allowed for a clear differentiation between the periods which is particularly useful for supporting the transitions as periods merged.

Lighting from Bruno Poet adds a more watery and atmospheric blue which ripples symbolically as it alludes to something darker and dangerous whether that be real or imagined within the play or in parallel to what happened to Woolf in real-life, whilst in pulling all the technical strands together, Annie-B Parson’s choreography is a show-stealer as we weave through the periods, slipping between obvious and less clear connections, with staging animatedly brought to life by dancers with a mythical depth as it is rolled on and off.

So far so great but the overriding feeling was somewhat flat with Greg Pierce’s libretto which sadly was far too recital and failed to allow its three primary characters the chance to shine. Fleming is a legend of the operatic scene and one of the main reasons I wanted to see her perform again, and it was a real disappointment not to see her, O’Hara, and DiDonato properly given the stage until the very end as they are brought together in a transcendental time and place.

Whilst DiDonato was the standout and O’Hara was excellent, Fleming and Ketelsen were fabulous in their late duet which demonstrated that she’s certainly still got it and me wanting to see more of his work in the future. John Holiday sang beautifully as the Man Under The Arch bridging cleverly between chorus and orchestra although director Phelim McDermott needed to bring his character more to the fore because his importance is too easily missed in this mesmerising production whose powerful score, staging and choreography is let down by a lacklustre libretto.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 10th December 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★