After fine-tuning, ‘The Hours’ with Fleming opens at the Met

Nov 21, 2022, 10:07 AM | Updated: 10:37 am
This combination of images released by The Metropolitan Opera shows mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, l...

This combination of images released by The Metropolitan Opera shows mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, left, soprano Kelli O’Hara, center, and soprano Renée Fleming in separate scenes during a performance of Kevin Puts' "The Hours." (Evan Zimmerman/The Metropolitan Opera via AP)

(Evan Zimmerman/The Metropolitan Opera via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Puts’ “The Hours” has had more than a few hours of changes since it was first heard in a pair of concert performances in Philadelphia last March.

The first composition in a novel arrangement between the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera was presented twice last March at Verizon Hall, then fine-tuned by the production team before its staged debut in New York on Tuesday night.

“He made the role higher for me,” said soprano Renée Fleming, who sings Clarissa Vaughan. “I was nervous about the orchestration, and he also adjusted that.”

Based on Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1998 novel, “The Hours” was adopted into a 2002 Academy Award-nominated film starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman, who won the Oscar for best actress. The story details three generations of women connected by Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel “Mrs. Dalloway.”

Puts’ version features the starry trio of Fleming, Joyce DiDonato and Kelli O’Hara, with Met and Philadelphia music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting, Phelim McDermott supervising roughly 30 scene changes and choreographer Annie-B Parson making her Met debut. There are eight performances through Dec. 15, including a Dec. 10 matinee simulcast to movie theaters worldwide and available for streaming in areas not near auditoriums.

Fleming’s assistant, Paul Batsel, suggested the novel and Fleming pitched it to Met general manager Peter Gelb. Now 63, Fleming had not appeared at the Met since her final Marschallin in Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” in 2017.

“I realized immediately that this was a way to get her back into the opera house,” Gelb said.

Fleming had sung Puts’ “Letters from Georgia” based on correspondence between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, which premiered in 2016 and was expanded three years later into “The Brightness of Light.” She wanted to work again with Puts, whose “Silent Night” won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music. He also created “The Manchurian Candidate” (2015) and “Elizabeth Cree” (2017), both praised for their music.

Puts, 50, composed “The Hours” through the pandemic at his home in Yonkers. Greg Pierce started writing the libretto in 2018 and Gelb brought in McDermott, familiar with Philip Glass’ score from the movie.

“It’s not linear. It’s more like you’re creating the whole atmosphere,” McDermott said. “The book is about what’s going on inside these people’s heads. The chorus is often the mind of the person on stage. So that has been the challenge of how to weave the chorus through and weave these stories together so that they rhyme with each other. The dancers are a physical expression of that, as well.”

DiDonato portrays Woolf in the Richmond area outside London in 1923; O’Hara is Laura Brown, an unhappily married housewife in 1949 Los Angeles; and Fleming is Vaughn, an editor arranging a party for Richard, an HIV-positive novelist friend in late 20th century New York.

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this feeling of anticipating an exact date for years and then having it be now a week before that date,” Puts said. “There’s something strange and kind of surreal about that here we are, now I’m at that moment, I feel a little out-of-body experience with it. But this is the nature of live performance with so many elements.”

Gelb was impressed by Parson’s choreography of David Byrne’s “American Utopia” on Broadway and asked her to meet McDermott on what she called “a blind date.”

“I suggested to him that she might be somebody he could talk to and see if they could find a way of collaborating to use dancers as well as actors to manipulate the scene exchanges,” Gelb said. “It became a lot more than that.”

Parson took ideas from Tim Pye’s sets and was inspired by Virginia’s books, Clarissa’s flowers and Laura’s kitchen.

“When I originally saw the design ideas, I thought it would be beautiful to have the dancers animate the architecture to make it alive,” she said, adding she wanted to capture “the magic of the ’50s, which is really a scary moment because it’s like such a false god.”

After Philadelphia, Puts expanded orchestral music to give McDermott more staging time and cut the character of Cunningham, who had encountered Woolf in the opera.

“Everyone decided that was a little much,” Puts said.

During rehearsals, the cast and production team began each day sitting in a circle and sharing something important to each.

“My sort of take on all these stories is the kind of tragedy of being forced at some level or another to live an inauthentic life,” Puts said. “Laura Brown just feeling trapped in this existence and Virginia Woolf, this kind of superhuman creativity, force of nature, and kind of being confined to this little place where she was so miserable. And Clarissa also in her own way just sort of stuck on Richard in a way that she can’t escape.”

All involved expect the audience experience to be different than reading the book or watching the film.

“Opera is this radical form, which can do things that nothing else can do,” McDermott said. “It’s always weird to talk about something before you’ve opened it, but it’s definitely an attempt to use opera to do something and create something that’s never existed before.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              This image released by The Metropolitan Opera shows  mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, center, during a performance of Kevin Puts' "The Hours." (Evan Zimmerman/The Metropolitan Opera via AP)
            
              This image released by The Metropolitan Opera shows soprano Kelli O’Hara during a performance of Kevin Puts' "The Hours." (Evan Zimmerman/The Metropolitan Opera via AP)
            
              This image released by The Metropolitan Opera shows soprano Renée Fleming during a performance of Kevin Puts' "The Hours." (Evan Zimmerman/The Metropolitan Opera via AP)
            
              This combination of images released by The Metropolitan Opera shows mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, left, soprano Kelli O’Hara, center, and soprano Renée Fleming in separate scenes during a performance of Kevin Puts' "The Hours." (Evan Zimmerman/The Metropolitan Opera via AP)

AP

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., updates reporters as Congress moves urgently to head o...
Associated Press

Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

WASHINGTON (AP) — Legislation to avert what could have been an economically ruinous freight rail strike won final approval in Congress on Thursday as lawmakers responded quickly to President Joe Biden’s call for federal intervention in a long-running labor dispute. The Senate passed a bill to bind rail companies and workers to a proposed settlement […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

EPA proposes restrictions to block proposed Alaska mine

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed restrictions that would block plans for a copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region that is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. A statement from the regional EPA office said discharges of dredged or fill material into the waters […]
19 hours ago
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in the Ea...
Associated Press

Biden to Dems: Scrap caucuses, promote diversity in primary

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday that Democrats should give up “restrictive” caucuses and move to champion diversity in the order of their presidential primary calendar, dealing a major blow to Iowa’s decadeslong status as the first voting state. In a letter to the rule-making arm of the Democratic National Committee, Biden does […]
19 hours ago
***HOLD for Story running Wed. Nov. 30, 2022 *** FILE - A family walks over cracked mud near Lake O...
Associated Press

Drought-hit California cities to get little water from state

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California water agencies that serve 27 million people will get just 5% of what they requested from the state to start 2023, water officials announced Thursday. The news of limited water comes as California concludes its driest three-year stretch on record and as water managers brace for a fourth year with […]
19 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden answers questions with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona as they leave ...
Associated Press

High court to rule on Biden student loan cancellation plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to decide whether the Biden administration can broadly cancel student loans, keeping the program blocked for now but signaling a final answer by early summer. That’s about two months before the newly extended pause on loan repayments is set to expire. The administration had wanted a court […]
19 hours ago
This photo provided by the Oxford (Miss.) Police Department shows Timothy Herrington Jr. Herrington...
Associated Press

Man charged with murder of Ole Miss student released on bond

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — The man charged with first-degree murder in the case of a University of Mississippi student who has been missing since early July was released on a $250,000 bond Thursday. Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., 22, faces a murder charge for the suspected killing of 20-year-old Jimmie “Jay” Lee, whose body has yet […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
After fine-tuning, ‘The Hours’ with Fleming opens at the Met