In New York, the very rich Hours of the Met

At the entrance to the Metropolitan Opera, the public arrives in clusters for the evening performance. Some linger, even have their photograph taken, in front of the poster announcing The Hours, the creation of this beginning of the New York opera season. Fans recognize three singing stars: soprano Renée Fleming, mezzo Joyce DiDonato and Kelli O’Hara, a complete artist who moves between the stages of Broadway musicals and classic productions. On the huge Met set, they play respectively Clarissa, Virginia and Laura, heroines of Kevin Puts’ opera inspired by The Hours by Stephen Daldry (2002), multi-award-winning film (1) itself adapted from the novel by Michael Cunningham.

“It is essential for a house like the Met to enrich the lyrical repertoire, assures Peter Gelb, its managing director. If we want opera to have a future, it must, like cinema, theater or the visual arts, renew itself. But it is a challenge because the public often dreads contemporary creation, fearing that it is arid, inaccessible. »

The fault, according to Peter Gelb, of the composers whose complex language could only seduce an informed audience: “Pierre Boulez was a genius, but a genius for a small number of listeners…” Hence the policy of the Met which appeals to artists “who see opera as musical theater for everyone. »

Suggest the passage of time

If we judge by the triumphant welcome when the curtain falls, Kevin Puts is one of them: his assumed borrowings from jazz follow equally explicit quotations from The Magic Flute by Mozart – a florist vocalizes like the Queen of the Night and stutters like Papagena! And if the subtlety of his orchestration translates an intimate knowledge of the instrumental textures that he models not without audacity, the American composer born in 1972 reserves for voices, soloists and choirs, flexible and flattering melodies which owe a lot to the grand opera of yesteryear. .

“Kevin Puts creates a dizzying and unexpected harmonic framework, while his superb rhythmic talent here suggests the passage of time in a particularly appropriate way”, complete Renée Fleming who had already sung in 2019 The Brightness of Light by the same composer around the painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Excited about “its immense potential”, the soprano was his ambassador to the Met: “The complex and brilliant production required long rehearsals. Kevin Puts alternates between the grandeur of dazzling orchestral effects and the intimate emotion of the characters he portrays with exquisite sensitivity. »

Cameras close to faces

Phelim McDermott’s already cinematographic staging uses subtle crossfades, superimposing as in a dream a day in 1923 in the tormented life of Virginia Woolf, a day in 1949 at Laura Brown, a young “housewife” in Los Angeles and a day in 1999 through the eyes of New Yorker Clarissa Vaughan. And it is indeed the music which, beyond the years, manages in the very moving trio which closes the opera, to bring together these characters with parallel destinies.

“Each of them takes stock of her existence and wonders if she can continue like this, continues Renée Fleming. Clarissa that I play, a successful publisher devastated by the impending death of her friend Richard who is suffering from AIDS, questions her life choices, like Mrs Dalloway, the heroine of Virginia Woolf. »

From the hall of the Met, the public appreciates the virtuoso structure of the production and the seductive impact of the music, animated by the eloquent direction – legitimately greeted by heavy applause – by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Movie theater spectators will enjoy the work of the cameras, the close-ups of the performers’ faces, of the sets and costumes whose poetic realism matches the work’s temporal “layeredness”.

As Champion by Terence Blanchard, the other creation of the 2022-2023 season expected next spring, the opera by Kevin Puts “had to be on the program of our live broadcasts, supports Peter Gelb. This worldwide broadcast that I launched upon my arrival at the Met in 2006 is presented as a summary of what we can do. All styles are represented. And, for singers, it is a valuable platform that increases their influence among opera lovers. »

A room that carries the voice

The Franco-Swiss tenor Benjamin Bernheim, who has just made his New York debut in Rigoletto by Verdi, has not yet had the favor of “live HD”. “But it’s only a postponement, he smiles at the end of a Saturday morning where his performance was celebrated by a spellbound audience. I’m lucky to be invited again next season and Peter Gelb explained to me that I’ll be taking part in one of these live broadcasts… It’s the condition for getting better known. »

Impressed by the vastness of the hall – nearly 4,000 seats – the singer immediately felt “a very singular and pleasant sensation: the acoustics carry the voice, notably and strangely in the “mezza-voce” nuances. We can therefore try delicate colors without being afraid of losing the listeners in the back rows”.

In Bartlett Sher’s readable but somewhat flat staging, Benjamin Bernheim, alias the Duke of Mantua, shines with his panache as a man of power but even more so by infusing this flamboyant but unsympathetic character with an interesting fragility. “I don’t see him as a bully but rather a child who didn’t know how or couldn’t grow up, analyzes the tenor. When he thinks he has lost the one he loves, he is sincerely touched and unhappy. Then, once his “toy” is found, he forgets everything and, without worrying about the devastation he causes, will quickly move on to the next one. »

Happy to defend the French repertoire in New York in the future, Benjamin Bernheim nevertheless wonders about the very long time spent away from his loved ones, from his 8-year-old daughter, imposed by the weeks of rehearsals and performances. “Here, each gesture is precisely calibrated and the singers cannot improvise according to their mood. It’s reassuring but a bit frustrating at times…” he admits, while measuring his luck: “I realized that singing at the Met gave another dimension to a career, another notoriety. » Especially when, from his first steps, one has like him the laudatory honors of the New York Times.


While the pandemic seems to be over, the Met is therefore blazing again. Or almost. With a serious expression but a firm voice, Peter Gelb claims to have made “what was needed so that the house did not sink when it had to give up any show for sixteen months”. The dismissals of the members of the orchestra and the choirs had then raised many criticisms that the director does not seek to minimize. “There was no other choice for an institution without public subsidies, unlike what you know in Europe, in France in particular”, he declares.

Today, music lovers have found their way back to their Opera, “even if the older ones are still missing, says the CEO. We are 20% fewer spectators, which is still worrying “. Especially since the patrons, essential to the functioning of the Met, are more cautious in troubled times.

The success of The Hours only more comforting. It offers an additional argument in favor of creation, especially when it brings together such a glamorous vocal cast.


From stage to screen

Since 2006, the Metropolitan Opera has completed its radio broadcasting policy in the United States with a program of live recordings in high definition intended for spectators in cinemas around the world. Thus, 200,000 to 300,000 viewers are reached by these “live HD”.

In France the Pathé network, as well as some independent rooms, take part in the operation. The following are expected for the 2022-2023 season:

The Hoursby Kevin Puts (December 10, 2022)

Fedoraby Umberto Giordano (January 14, 2023)

Lohengrinby Richard Wagner (March 18, 2023)

The Rosenkavalierby Richard Strauss (April 15, 2023)

Championby Terence Blanchard (April 29, 2023)

Don Giovanniby Mozart (May 20, 2023)

The Magic Flute by Mozart (June 3, 2023)

Info. and list of rooms concerned on


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