Review: Exquisite THE HOURS by Puts Triumphs Again at the Met under Watanabe

Revival Showcases Originals DiDonato, O’Hara and Fleming, in McDermott Production

By: May. 13, 2024
Review: Exquisite THE HOURS by Puts Triumphs Again at the Met under Watanabe
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When I first heard Kevin Puts’s gorgeous, melodic score for THE HOURS back in 2022, I was blown away, thinking it was almost too good to be true. Could it be a classic? I wanted to hear it again, though not too soon, to give it a chance to settle in its own skin. Lucky us—lucky me—that the Met brought it back so quickly.

It reminded me that first impressions are sometimes on the mark.

Friday night’s performance was splendid musically, under Kensho Watanabe’s well-considered baton. And we must thank soprano Renee Fleming for her role in getting this opera to the stage, even if she doesn’t quite have the vocal fire or dramatic power that she once did to make Clarissa Vaughan work completely.

Still, we had the stunningly artistic Virginia Woolf from mezzo Joyce DiDonato and soprano Kelli O’Hara’s poignant Laura Brown to be grateful for—and when they sang together, as they did at least twice, it was a marvel. When all three women joined in a trio near the end of Act II, Puts gave us pure magic, with moments to remember for a long time.

Let’s talk for a moment about the joys of watching and listening to DiDonato. She was breathtaking, partly because her role is the best written of the three women who inhabit the work. Every note that came from her lips was filled with meaning, as if she knew this character and understood everything about her.

O’Hara, who has long been Broadway’s sweetheart, gave a thoughtful, rueful performance as Laura, this unhappy woman caught in the wrong life. It makes one wonder what she would have done with a career in opera that started earlier in her life. She pulled off her coup de theatre in Act II with aplomb, even though those of us who had seen THE HOURS before knew it was coming.

There are problems, of course, but none that Verdi or Puccini might have had put up with: a director (Phelim McDermott) and librettist (Greg Pierce) who didn’t live up to the composer’s skills, though most of the issues I have, I think, are with McDermott.

I say that having gone back to the film, directed by Stephen Daldry, and seeing that characters like Richard (the dying center of the story) and Sally (Clarissa’s partner) weren’t much better fleshed out by David Hare from Michael Cunningham’s novel.

Nonetheless, they were much more effective because the actors had help in crafting their roles that I think was lacking here (though I don’t know what role dramaturg Paul Cremo did here, since this kind of contribution changes with directors and librettists). Bass-baritone Kyle Kettlesen, as Richard, and mezzo Denyce Graces, as Sally, were as dramatically good as their roles permitted.

I think McDermott was too busy being, well, too busy—filling the stage with people when a moment of silence might have done much better. Indeed, I believe that the quiet moments frequently worked the best. There was nothing wrong with the quality of the chorus (under Donald Palumbo) or the dancers (under Annie-B Parson)—they did some fine work.

But particularly the dancers seemed overused and distracting from the main part of the story, although they had their moments, for example, in portraying the distress in Woolf’s head. But the director didn’t seem to take the best advantage of the fine work that Tom Pye did on the scenic design (costumes, too), with Bruno Poet’s lighting. While Pye’s work on the personal spaces of the three women was notable, his handling of the flashback of Wellfleet on Cape Cod, with Clarissa, Richard and his lover Louis (tenor William Burden), was truly special.

The supporting cast was first rate. The two “extra” men—Woolf’s husband Leonard and Laura’s Dan, sung by tenor Sean Panikkar and bass-baritone Brandon Cedel, respectively—helped us understand the inner lives of their wives. Soprano Kathleen Kim was a scene stealer as the florist, with her amusing Mozart riff of an aria, while mezzo Eve Gigliotti turned a role that could have faded into the woodwork, Woolf’s housekeeper Nelly, and made it alive.

It felt as if the roles gorgeously sung by countertenor John Holiday (with his lush soprano sound) were shorter than they had been at the premiere. Michael Hurst was fine as Laura’s son, Richie.

I look forward to many more HOURS in my life.

Photo: (l to r) Kelli O'Hara, Renee Fleming, Joyce DiDonato.

THE HOURS will be performed at the Met through May 21. For more information and tickets, see the Met’s website.


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