“The Hours”, mise en abyme by Virginia Woolf in New York

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 Hoursmise en abyme of the life of the writer Virginia Woolf.

Novel by Michael Cunningham released in 1999 and crowned with a Pulitzer Prize, then a film (2002) nominated nine times for the Oscars, Hours (The Hours in original version) tells the story of three women of 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”.

In an interview, 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 do in a movie or a book is that you can, at some 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 were victims, they were at the center of power struggles when they had none (…) I now want to tell stories about women who are extraordinary”.

In addition to the power of the voices, The Hoursincorporates modern dance in a way not often found in traditional operas, with dozens of performers physically manifesting the emotions of the characters.

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

The institution 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 Bonesby Terence Blanchard, a modern and flamboyant work, with jazz and blues accents.

“All our art forms must truly represent our people”, insists Renée Fleming.The Hoursis presented at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan from November 22 to December 15.


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“The Hours”, mise en abyme by Virginia Woolf in New York