Soprano star Renée Fleming back in New York to bring Virginia Woolf to life

published on Tuesday, November 22, 2022 at 04:30

Renée Fleming is back: the American soprano star returns to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York on Tuesday evening, for an unprecedented adaptation of “The Hours”, a mise en abyme of the life of the writer Virginia Woolf.

A novel by Michael Cunningham released in 1999 and crowned with a Pulitzer Prize, then a film (2002) nominated nine times for the Oscars, “The Hours” (“The Hours” in the original version) tells the story of three women from different generations, but all linked by the same work of the British author: “Mrs Dalloway”.

In the cinema, Nicole Kidman won the Oscar for best actress in 2003 for her portrayal of the writer, plagued by depression and fragile mental health when she worked on this novel in the early 1920s. Her destiny was paralleled with that of a Californian mother in the 1950s who seeks to escape from a conventional life (Julianne Moore), and a New York literary editor (Meryl Streep), confronted with the disease of comrade stricken by AIDS.

Three prestigious actresses are succeeded by a trio of renowned singers: mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato – winner of three Grammy Awards in her career – to play Virginia Woolf, Broadway and opera star Kelli O’Hara, and Renée Fleming in the skin of the New York publisher.

With this creation, Renée Fleming, great star of American opera, is back on the prestigious stage of the Met Opera, where five years ago she said goodbye to one of her greatest roles, in the ” Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss.

In his eyes, opera is the “perfect” genre to adapt “The Hours”, “because of the complexity of having to deal with three different” periods.

– Music is a “river” –

In an interview with AFP, she compares music to “a kind of river on which we can all float, together or separately”. It was she who had the idea for this adaptation and whispered it in the ear of the composer Kevin Puts.

“What you can do in music that you can’t really accomplish in a film or a book is that you can, at one point, present all three stories… simultaneously”, abounds the composer.

Prior to this project, Renée Fleming was already working with the composer, for whom she played the great 20th century painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

With a guiding thread, tell the stories of powerful women.

“Too often in opera, historically, women have been sort of pawns,” she explains.

“They have been victims, they have been at the center of power struggles when they have none (…) I now want to tell stories about women who are extraordinary”.

Besides the power of the voices, “The Hours” incorporates modern dance in a way not often seen in traditional operas, with dozens of performers who physically manifest the emotions of the characters.

For Renée Fleming, productions like “The Hours” can play a vital role in rejuvenating opera and attracting new audiences. A long-term goal that the Metropolitan is striving to achieve.

The institution had opened its 2021 season by showing, for the first time in 138 years, the first opera composed by a black musician, “Fire Shut Up In My Bones” by Terence Blanchard, a modern and flamboyant work, with jazz and blues accents.

“All our art forms must truly represent our population”, insists Renée Fleming.

“The Hours” is presented at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan from November 22 to December 15.

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Soprano star Renée Fleming back in New York to bring Virginia Woolf to life