The cheering crowd merely wouldn’t go away. Even after the clearly blissful artists had emptied the stage and the home lights went on, the applause continued. Philadelphia audiences—accustomed to being handled as an appendage to the New York cognoscenti who actually rely—knew that this was An Vital Second… and we weren’t going to let it go.
Our Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin (who additionally, by the way in which, serves that perform additionally at a theater 100 miles to the north) pulled off the sensible thought to make use of this orchestra together with visitor soloists to preview a newly commissioned opera by composer Kevin Places and librettist Greg Pierce. That work, an adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s acclaimed 1998 novel, The Hours, would thereby get a apply run in live performance type, earlier than its staged debut on November 22 at… oh, all proper: the Met.
So sure: there was an unmistakable factor of native boosterism right here. However that’s not all it was.
Places’ and Pierce’s The Hours is in some ways a massively spectacular achievement. If you happen to merely enable the work to brush over you, it’s ravishingly lovely, severe but accessible. The diaphanous, ever-swirling musical textures acquainted from the composer’s earlier opera, Silent Night time, are if something much more evident right here.
Rarer amongst up to date opera composers is Places’ present for sleek vocal writing. Like many new works, the construction right here emphasizes elongated narratives over break-out numbers, however the singers nonetheless really feel main, and really well-served. Solely time will inform, however I can think about some passages—significantly one for the character of Laura Brown early in Act II, and one other for all three principal girls—excerpted and carried out in several contexts.
In different phrases, musically talking, The Hours appears to be a smashing success. As as to if it will get to the center of Cunningham’s ebook—or works as storytelling by itself phrases—that’s a extra difficult query.
For these unfamiliar with the The Hours, I’ll foolhardily try a fast synopsis. The novel is made up of three separate narratives, targeted on three girls in other places and historic contexts, however thematically associated.
In England in 1923, novelist Virginia Woolf struggles together with her personal psychological sickness as she works on her magnum opus, Mrs. Dalloway. In Southern California in 1949, spouse and mom Laura Brown reads that now-published novel to consolation herself: more often than not, she feels misplaced. And in New York within the late Nineties, Clarissa Vaughan—a rich editor with the type of life that’s a PBS moist dream—prepares a celebration for her novelist pal Richard, who has simply gained a serious literary prize, however is dying of AIDS.
Ms. Vaughan’s day intently replicates the motion (not likely the correct phrase) of Mrs. Dalloway: the ladies share the identical first title of Clarissa, and each start their errands by shopping for flowers, which famously is the primary line of Woolf’s novel. In reality, all three plot strands in The Hours observe a day within the life of every of those girls. Extra deeply, all three are linked by way of a theme of suicide. Cunningham’s novel might as precisely be titled To Be, Or Not To Be.
Even from my crude abstract, I hope you picked up that it is a ebook of small, quiet particulars. Regardless of the epochal construction and dire central theme, Cunningham’s work is elegantly understated. Even large issues occur in a manner that may require a number of readings to actually get the sense of what simply occurred. Way more important listed here are the minor moments that make up a life. Once more, Hamlet involves thoughts: the language right here is essentially inside ruminations. Musically talking, I might name Cunningham’s novel a chamber work.
That isn’t in any respect Places’ method. A part of what made this premiere so thrilling was listening to the complete forces of this orchestra in dazzlingly virtuosic type; a refrain can be employed (right here the wonderful Philadelphia Symphonic Choir, beneath the route of Joe Miller) who equally carry out with superior grandeur.
It’s thrilling music by itself—however it’s tonally at odds with the story. One second truly made me giggle: when Laura Brown dejectedly throws away a cake she’s baked and embellished that turned out poorly (see what I imply about particulars?), the orchestral writing brings in what feels like pounding conflict drums. (I imply, I believe cake is a giant deal, too—however actually?)
To the credit score of each the writing and the excellent solo performances throughout the board, the person characters nonetheless register powerfully. However one thing key within the novel is misplaced in translation.
The ebook has, after all, been translated earlier than: in director Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed 2002 movie adaptation. It’s revealing to check this with the opera. Although Daldry and screenwriter David Hare essentially compress among the narrative, the film is in most methods fairly amazingly trustworthy to Cunningham’s construction and tone. The sense of incidents is quiet, sublimated to the emotional reactions to them which are sometimes intentionally opaque.
The movie has its personal very celebrated musical rating by Philip Glass, who to my thoughts is at his greatest right here: his undulating, hypnotic however low-key type is ideal. Places’ language can be in fixed, shimmering motion—however to me it feels too giant. I ponder how a lot the problem of filling the Met is at play right here?
A fast sidebar. Places and Glass equally select largely to disregard what might need been an apparent musical manner into the novel: to delineate the historic shifts with stylistically totally different music. Glass’s rating by no means does it—and after a brief passage introducing Laura with some big-band jazz undertones—neither does Places. In each instances, I believe it’s the correct selection.
For librettist Greg Pierce, it’s a unique form of drawback. If a movie script must considerably abridge a novel, a libretto has even fewer phrases to work with. A technique Pierce does it’s to overlap among the three tales, which I believe is a mistake. (Cunningham retains them separate for a cause, merging them solely in a last coup de theatre.) I additionally assume the final second within the opera, which brings collectively Laura, Virginia, and Clarissa in a trio expressing what they’ve discovered, is gorgeous, however a false and over-sentimentalizing be aware.
In preparation for the live performance this week, I watched the film once more and likewise listened to the novel by way of an audiobook—each of which allowed me to observe the story, mentally plugging in particulars that weren’t in any other case clear. However I’m undecided how straightforward it could be to determine all this out for those who got here to this opera with out that information. I ought to after all additionally say that this was a live performance efficiency; staging ought to assist immeasurably.
Ah sure—again to the live performance. By way of the efficiency right here, the information was overwhelmingly optimistic. To an individual, the big solid—18 soloists, if I rely appropriately—have been excellent.
The character of Clarissa is an ideal match for Renée Fleming. Her voice has diminished a bit in measurement (often swamped right here within the decrease register), however the high quality—particularly, these miraculously ethereal excessive notes—stays astonishingly untouched by time, and she or he introduced welcome dignity and restraint. Kelli O’Hara (as Laura Brown) was maybe the most important information—her luminous soprano, extra lovely than ever, in full sail; her emotional reserves equally highly effective. I don’t assume anybody listening to this live performance—principally unamplified, by the way in which—would think about for a second that she’s not initially an opera singer.
Fleming and O’Hara will recreate these roles on the Met, the place Woolf will likely be performed by Joyce DiDonato. Right here, that position was taken by Jennifer Johnson Cano, whose heat mezzo was a pleasure by itself, equaled by her potent, charismatic performing. I do hope she has a possibility to do that on stage.
Within the male roles, baritone Brett Polegato (as Richard, the doomed novelist) was marvelous each dramatically and vocally; as have been (in smaller elements) tenors Jamez McCorkle, William Burden, and Richard Troxell, and bass-baritone Brandon Cedel.
Ready assist was additionally supplied by Deborah Nansteel, Sylvia D’Eramo, Raven McMillon, Chelsea Laggan, and a bunch of gifted younger singer/actors: Jonah Serotta, Thomas FitzGerald, Elliet Brown, Devan Truax, Sarah Shoff, and Sydney Parson.
Particular point out needs to be manufactured from countertenor Chuanyuan Liu, who carried out solos from the choir loft with an unearthly magnificence that made essentially the most of each second.
And there you’ve got it. I have a look at the night a bit like Laura’s cake. Dramaturgically, it’s a combined bag: I wouldn’t discard it, however I might need to repair it. However merely as a night of beautiful music and singing, it’s sous-chef.