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Opera Daily 🎶 — The Hours
This week's Opera Daily features an opera about one day in the lives of three women, from three different times and places
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No big plot. No thrilling actions. No heartbreaking romances. Just an entire novel based on one ordinary day in an ordinary woman’s life.
This is the premise behind Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, which is brought together onstage in the opera The Hours (score by Kevin Puts and libretto by Greg Pierce) at the Metropolitan Opera this season. The Hours is based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel by Michael Cunningham and the Academy Award–winning film adaptation that followed.
Today we are listening to the trio at the end of Act 2 of The Hours. The finale is with the three protagonists and a nod to Der Rosenkavalier, Fleming’s last Met appearance.
It showcases the intricate relationships between the three women as they share a secret understanding of what each of has been through and what each of their days has been like. Virginia could not cope with the world around her, Laura chose a path of independence away from her family, and Clarissa struggled with bringing new life into a world she secretly hated. These struggles come to a head here as the women sing to each other, encouraging one another to keep trying. The music takes over, painting a vivid picture of life's challenges, heartaches, and, ultimately, the beauty of life.
🎧 Listen here (5 minute listen): Renée Fleming (as Clarissa Vaughan), Kelli O’Hara (as Laura Brown), and Joyce DiDonato (as Virginia Woolf), sing the final trio from Act 2, The Metropolitan Opera, Production: Phelim McDermott, Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin, 2022–23 season.
“An opera should be written only when the emotion is so big that speaking is just not enough.” — Joyce DiDonato
Like Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours follows three women on a single day in June. Virginia Woolf is in Richmond, England, in 1923. Laura Brown is in Los Angeles in 1949. Clarissa Vaughan is in New York City at the end of the 20th century.
Like Clarissa Dalloway, each woman prepares for a party to be held later in the day. And like Clarissa Dalloway, each woman could be said to be “outwardly ordinary.” First is Woolf herself, writing Mrs. Dalloway in a suburb beyond London. Second is Laura Brown, a restless housewife in California in the 1940s. And finally, we have Clarissa Vaughan, a member of New York’s elite, around the turn of the 21st century.
These three women will never meet one another. They live in three different decades, in three different cities, facing three very different circumstances. On a deeper level, however, these women have everything in common. All three have been touched by depression and mental illness, and Mrs. Dalloway has been a driving force in every one of their lives. As Puts and Pierce braids their stories together, we know each of these women deeply—and discover just how extraordinary they really are.
Renée Fleming called composer Kevin Puts and asked if he was interested in composing an opera based on The Hours. He said yes immediately. He thought it would be great to do something that takes place in different periods simultaneously because you can do things like this on the operatic stage, which is not always the case elsewhere, like in a film or book.
If you’d like to hear more excerpts from The Hours, you can find them here: “I wanted to write something good. Something true.”, “Heaven? Somebody else’s heaven?”, “Here on this corner”, “You know me.”, “The end, is it here already?”, “Funny dreams have a way”.
You can also find a talk on the opera with the cast here.
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
Enjoy and please have a wonderful week,
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured why opera can be so exciting and engaging.
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