The Woolf pack: Renée Fleming and Joyce DiDonato on turning The Hours into opera
The Pulitzer-prize-winning, Mrs Dalloway-influenced novel about three generations of women, has finally hit the stage. Its stars tell us how they pulled it off
Renée Fleming is rarely seen on an opera house stage today. The star soprano announced five years ago that she was retiring – not from opera, but from performing many of the roles, the Desdemonas, Violettas and Marguerites, that she had made her own on the world’s greatest stages. “I said I can’t play ingénues any more. Characters who are supposed to be very youthful. Women who are victims of circumstance.” Unfortunately for operagoers, that excised most of the 18th- and 19th-century soprano repertoire. “I wanted to be able to say words that a woman of my age and experience could say,” she adds. “Which is why my focus is on new work.”
The Hours, which will be streamed live in cinemas across Europe and the US this weekend, is a new opera by US composer Kevin Puts adapted from Michael Cunningham’s 1999 Pulitzer prize-winning novel about a single day in the lives of three generations of women: Virginia Woolf in 1920s Richmond, who will be played in this premiere staging at New York’s Metropolitan Opera by Joyce DiDonato; Laura Brown in postwar suburban Los Angeles (Kelli O’Hara); and Clarissa Vaughan – nicknamed “Mrs Dalloway” – in the New York of 2001 (Fleming). Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway is the thread that connects the three, who struggle to find shape in the lives and roles allotted them, and contemplate creativity, love, regret, family, friendship and sexuality. Stephen Daldry’s 2002 film was garlanded with awards, including an Oscar for Nicole Kidman as Woolf.