‘The Hours,’ in Its Latest Adaptation, Is a Stunning Triumph for the Met

Daniel D'Addario, Variety, December 1, 2022

There’s a moment in the second act of “The Hours,” the Metropolitan Opera’s superb new offering by composer Kevin Puts, in which Clarissa Vaughan (Renée Fleming) is prompted to reflect. In conversation with an old friend named Louis (William Burden), she’s reminded of a single summer by the beach, long enough ago to have begun to slip into a sort of personal lore, the kind of thing one can only believe happened to oneself when an intimate describes it once more. Behind her falls a curtain, onto which is projected images suggestive of sun and sand and freedom; she’s flanked by Louis and by Richard (Kyle Ketelsen), two gay men with whom she experienced a sort of love triangle. Clarissa is warmed by the recollection of all of this potential, the life she had ahead of her; suddenly, the bubble of nostalgia is punctured. The curtain falls to the floor with an undignified flounce. Clarissa is alone again.

Even those unfamiliar with the source material — Michael Cunningham’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, followed by a 2002 film adaptation — will have come to know Clarissa Vaughan, by this point, quite well, and to understand why this reverie is out of character. As played by Fleming, Clarissa is a pragmatist, all business; Fleming’s vocal performance is gorgeous, and shot through with the bustling sense that Clarissa is rushing to the next task, the next note. With her wife (Denyce Graves, all marvelous warmth to counter Clarissa’s abruptness) she is planning a party, just as is the protagonist of “Mrs. Dalloway,” a novel that Virginia Woolf (Joyce DiDonato) is writing in another section of the opera. Between the two women in time lies — quite literally — Laura Brown (Kelli O’Hara), who prevaricates to her small child about the day they were meant to spend together so that she may crawl, alone, into a hotel bed, read “Mrs. Dalloway,” and contemplate whether or not to end her life. This production, which opened Nov. 22 and which will be playing in movie theaters as a Fathom Event, stuns in the way it brings these disparate, desperate characters together. And it’s the great achievement of Puts’ “The Hours” and of director Phelim McDermott that, on a stage the size of the Met’s, it communicates intimate spiraling emotional journeys with the subtle, deft texture of thought and of memory.

O’Hara, radiantly keening for the woman that Laura fears she cannot become, delivers a remarkable performance. But as in the film, which won Nicole Kidman her Oscar for her work as the doomed novelist, it’s Woolf who’ll make you swoon. DiDonato, an exceptional talent both as singer and actor, has the difficult tasks, first, of rendering the process of thinking through writing and, then, of conveying the psyche of a woman who cannot trust her thoughts when not writing. DiDonato grabs onto the part with both hands, conveying Woolf’s frustrations at being interrupted in her work as the anger of a woman who risks getting the bends every time she returns to reality.