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Three Divas Give Voice to ‘The Hours’ on the Met Opera

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Recent York City’s opera event of the autumn — an adaptation of “The Hours” having its staged premiere on the Metropolitan Opera in November — began with a pitch from Renée Fleming.

Fleming, the superstar soprano, was mulling over recent projects when Paul Batsel, her right-hand man, suggested “The Hours,” Michael Cunningham’s novel inspired by Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” which weaves together sooner or later within the lives of three women across time: Woolf, writing her book; a midcentury homemaker named Laura Brown, who’s reading it; and a Nineteen Nineties editor named Clarissa Vaughan, who, like Clarissa Dalloway, is organizing a celebration, here for a friend diminished by AIDS.

“The Hours” won Cunningham a Pulitzer Prize in 1999, and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 2002, starring an influence trio of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman. Crucially, that movie was scored by Philip Glass, whose soundtrack unified the three stories as lucidly because the motif of “Mrs. Dalloway” did.

“I loved, loved, loved the film when it got here out,” Fleming, who’s singing the role of Clarissa, said in an interview. “It haunted me and stayed with me. The performances were so good, and after I went back to it — all of those ideas, suicide, their lives as L.G.B.T.Q. people in Recent York City at the moment, the period, all that was powerful for me. So when Paul suggested it, I assumed: That’s perfect. Three divas, what might be higher?”

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, agreed. A composer was already in hand — Kevin Puts, who won the Pulitzer Prize for “Silent Night” in 2012, working here with the librettist Greg Pierce — but the corporate needed two more stars. Enter Kelli O’Hara, a Tony Award-decorated musical theater actress with opera bona fides (even on the Met, where she was a standout as Despina in Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte”), within the role of Laura; and, as Virginia Woolf, the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, a house regular and audience favorite.

The Philadelphia Orchestra premiered “The Hours” in concert form earlier this yr, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Reviewing that performance, Zachary Woolfe wrote in The Recent York Times that, “the brand new work is, like ‘Silent Night,’ direct, effective theater, with a cinematic quality in its plush, propulsive underscoring, its instinctive sense for using music to maneuver things along.”

Nézet-Séguin, the Met’s music director, will probably be within the pit when the opera arrives on the Met in November, directed by Phelim McDermott (most recently of “Akhnaten” fame) and choreographed by Annie-B Parson. Spread world wide but speaking together on a shared video call, the production’s three stars discussed how they’re preparing for rehearsals and for bringing their characters to the opera stage. Listed here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

These three roles were written along with your voices in mind. Are you able to explain how that plays out in practice?

KELLI O’HARA Can I just give a shout-out to Kevin Puts? To have a composer who’s living now and writing now and writing so beautifully now — Renée’s selection of him was so special. He got here to some of sing-through sessions just to listen to me and write a bit of bit more specifically. I don’t take that without any consideration. To listen and make changes appropriately, he’s quite a mensch that way.

RENÉE FLEMING He’s written rather a lot for me, and he knows my voice very well. The thing that works for me is that the phrases have separation between them, so that you’re probably not stuck in a high register or a difficult tessitura consistently. And that’s what makes it possible. I’m loving [singing] it in my front room, so let’s hope that translates to the massive house.

JOYCE DiDONATO I’m the page, I’m the rating, and I’m like: Oh Kevin, that’s the cash note that audiences will probably be waiting for. One in all the cool things, as I’m working on it, is that I’m finding the groove very easily. It’s being crafted for us, however the sign of a very good composer is that it’s clear this may have a life beyond this production. He’s writing it in such a lyrical way that plenty of different voices will find a way to take this on. That’s what we wish; we wish these projects to have a legacy.

What do you think that makes this version of “The Hours” effective opera?

FLEMING Libretti are hard because you’ve got to scale back the variety of words to a minimum with the intention to have room for the music, and that’s very true here. Greg Pierce’s libretto is concise, and it’s colourful and just beautifully wrought.

O’HARA It appears like there’s a relentless movement of the drama. That makes it feel, in a way, cinematic. Among the rating as well. It truly is evocative. The more I take heed to it, the more I actually have it circling in me; it’s one among those things that you simply turn out to be obsessive about.

FLEMING Kevin just isn’t afraid to write down something that’s moving and exquisite for most people. And that’s something that, in my lifetime, composers in opera have struggled with.

DiDONATO That is an emotional story. Among the recent pieces that I actually have seen are very graphic and angular and have sanitized, in a way, the emotion. And I don’t find it in any way maudlin and saccharine — which was once good words in opera, but I understand why we hesitate to bask in that. But that, in some ways, is what opera does best.

One in all the things I search for, actually with a recent piece, is: Why does this must be sung? What I believe they’ve done really brilliantly is the overlay, the best way you may have the identical emotional experience by different people in several contexts. And that’s something that may occur easily in opera and never a lot within the cinema or theater world. There’s a scene where Virginia Woolf is trying to write down, and he or she’s scuffling with just getting the day began, after which Laura is available in and he or she’s reading it. We have now the identical words, one is being created and one is being received, and so they each are being felt in very other ways. That adds an enormous layer of complexity that basically works on the opera stage.

How are you coming at these characters, which have been famously occupied by Hollywood stars? Kelli, in your case, that is the second time you take on one among Julianne Moore’s roles, after the musical adaptation of “Far From Heaven.”

O’HARA I didn’t return to the movie; that’s type of a rule for me. If I’ve seen it, I won’t watch it again. Since the only solution to make it human or different or recent is to place your personal vision through it and metabolize it in your personal body, your heart and produce it forth. I believe that’s what the three of us will do. Opera could be very different from film. I haven’t even really considered it being up for comparison.

DiDONATO We’re all the time competing against ghosts of the past who created roles. To me, the secret is all the time, I do the research, but my job is to place the rating in front of me and never create past versions. I learned that quite an extended time ago. Go to the source, go to the rating, the text, and you’ve got to go away the remaining behind.

FLEMING Well, I’ve all the time desired to play Meryl Streep [laughs]. But additionally, for me, that is one among the one times I’ve gotten to perform a period from my very own lifetime. I still have clothing from the ’90s.

O’HARA That’s wild. I’m going back to the ’50s. Just put me there on a regular basis.

DiDONATO You do get the cutest clothes from that period. I actually have a bit of little bit of wardrobe envy.

You could have praised how “The Hours” — whether the book, the film or this opera — captures women’s feelings and experiences. All were created by men. What do they get right?

FLEMING This is difficult, because obviously I used to be pressing for ladies within the creative team, so we’ve a choreographer. I believe it’s necessary, moving forward, to appropriately give representation to the stories being told. Even the incontrovertible fact that Denyce Graves [in the role of Sally] and I are lovers on this. This may increasingly be something that folks clock — that [the queer] community just isn’t represented, no less than within the principals. It’s very difficult, on so many various fronts.

That said, I do think they did a excellent job, and Michael Cunningham did an incredible job. I actually have an extended relationship with Strauss and Hofmannsthal; there are historical pairings of librettist and composer which have really shockingly presented a lady’s inner life extremely well.

O’HARA From the Laura Brown perspective, Michael Cunningham is writing his own mother. Have a look at Sondheim; there’s this precedent of artists who work things out of their art. So I need to affix them and produce out their story, and my very own story with my mother, and my very own experience of being a mother. You do have someone who’s writing from a really real place. I’ll are available, and I actually have to make this woman human and empathetic in the identical way. But they’re writing from deep knowledge and pain.

FLEMING AIDS is at the middle of Michael Cunningham’s book as well. A friend of mind said, “I’m glad the Met is finally producing a gay story,” and I assumed: Huh, I assumed this was about three women. There are different perspectives on this piece. It’s wonderful in that way.

DiDONATO For me, I believe they’ve captured the captivity sensation that Virginia felt, or that I imagine she felt at the moment — the constraints placed on her, what it was to be a creative genius as a lady. We do need representation on the table, as Renée is saying. But one among the magical things concerning the theater is that it’s all the time about getting in another person’s head. And that will be me, a lady from Kansas City, trying to know Virginia Woolf. It might probably be a person trying to know a lady, a son about his mother. It’s dangerous if we start blocking those creative outlets.

What’s exciting is that we’re demanding that those doors are open to everybody. But I don’t think meaning we should always shut doors completely. We’d be missing out on plenty of great art. I believe it’s thrilling that these men need to tell this story. Let’s have a lady write it as well. We have now a lot of “Barber of Sevilles” and “Figaros.” Let a lady write “The Hours,” and we will compare.

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