Review: ‘The Hours’ will bring Renée Fleming back to the Met
Puts borrowed from Glass’s minimalism the taste for using repeated figurations as a kind of sound carpet, but his repetitions are much less insistent. The opera begins in a watery blur, with a chorus, both floating and precise in sound, chanting fragments of Woolf’s classic opening line: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
The events of the opera, as in the book and the film, are studied modestly, taking place in a single day. Clarissa goes to the flower shop, visits her dying friend, and reflects on what her life would have been like if she hadn’t, years ago, broken off a budding romance with him. Woolf discusses page proofs with her husband, forms sentences and greets her sister’s family. Laura attempts to bake a cake for her husband’s birthday before escaping to a hotel to read alone.
With each of the two acts unfolding in an uninterrupted flow, Puts smoothly evolves between parlando sung conversation and dazzling lyrical flights. The stylization of the opera allows him to bring together his characters in the same musical space, even if they ignore each other otherwise. So there are, for example, lovely duets for Woolf and Laura, one in which they sing lines from “Mrs. Dalloway” in close harmony over quivering strings. Puts is insightful in the use of the chorus, which will be presumably offstage in a full production, to convey other shadows of these women’s inner lives.
Prepared with remarkably limited rehearsal time for a two-hour work with a substantial cast, it was a lush but seamless retelling of the score, performed with refinement and engagement. The opera relies heavily on the opulent strings of this orchestra, as well as its characterful wind and brass instruments, and the precision of a large battery of percussion instruments (including a celesta, frequently used, in a cliche daydreaming).
Puts’ work is attractive and skillful. Yet much of it, despite great activity and apparent variety in the orchestra and among the singers, conveys a sense of engulfing similarity of musical texture and vocal approach. The arias, if we put aside the words, are more or less interchangeable: perfectly hovering. Saturated orchestral colors recall Nelson Riddle’s symphonic pop arrangements and Samuel Barber’s gently reflective soprano monologue “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” But Riddle’s songs are only a few minutes long; “Knoxville”, about 3 p.m. In a few hours, it’s beautiful but tiring.
The 1950s style for Laura’s world – soft Lawrence Welk-type swing, choral writing like TV jingles – seems obvious. And some moments of the greatest drama smack of the overkill that spoils the film, like when the threat of Woolf’s devastating headaches is marked by pounding darkness, gaping brass and instrumental screams.