Phelim McDermott

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The Hours

McDermott, Phelim

Last Updated: Feb-13-2023
Annotated by:
Brungardt, Gerard

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater


This annotation is based on a live streamed performance (The Met: Live in HD) presented by the Metropolitan Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City that ran November-December of 2022.  It is based on two novels: The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. 

The Hours follows a day in the life of three women living in three different eras in three different parts of the world. Each woman is wrestling with her own demons, which overlap with those of the others, while simultaneously remaining distinct. Clarissa is a book editor in late 20th century NYC readying for a party she is hosting that evening in honor of Richard, a writer and her former lover who is dying from AIDS. Laura is a housewife and mother in 1940's LA preparing with her son to celebrate her husband's birthday. The final character is Virginia Woolf herself in 1920's London writing her novel Mrs. Dalloway.

 In each of these three narratives the central characters suffer depression, despair, loneliness, regrets, unrequited love, and suicidal longings — particularly poignant is the portrayal of each woman's aching despair in trying to discern who she herself is.  

As each of the women's stories is told, the full power of the medium of opera is brought to bear. In particular, there are several scenes where two (or even all three) of the characters' stories run concurrently with alternating dialogue (e.g., Woolf voices her novel as she writes it while Laura reads aloud the same passage). Characters walk into each other's scenes. The chorus is used throughout as a kind of human milieu that gives voice to inner thoughts and feelings, even engaging in dialogue with their character. The dialogue, color palette, wardrobe, and musical style are unique and specific to each scene/period/story. Woolf's is a drab color palette and dark music; Laura has bright post-war colors and a popular music style evoking Lawrence Welk or Henry Mancini. Clarissa's world is 90's Americana with hints of Bernstein and Copland in the music.  

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