Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Prima Donna needs work

K e-mailed this morning, saying the New York Times had been pretty rough on Rufus Wainwright in their review of his opera Prima Donna. And that for a home-town boy.

I e-mailed him back that I would look at it in a minute, because the main system that I work on was bound to crash again soon - it's been doing so off-and-on since Friday, in fact it reminds me of another Rufus Wainwright song, called Ups and Downs, which borrows a theme from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov...

But even before reading the article, I answered him that it would be a miracle for any modern opera (especially by a first-time composer) to get a positive review from critics who are as petrified as the rest of the opera scene seems to be.

Pretty soon the whole thing did indeed crash again and, running out of other things to do, I took the time to read the article. And it is not as bad as I expected. At all.

"I wish I could report that “Prima Donna” fulfilled his ambitions for writing a fresh and personal new opera." Anthony Tommasini writes. And "Mr. Wainwright’s score and his attitude toward the drama often seem muddled, as if he were relying too much on his keen musical and theatrical instincts lest he overthink and impede his imagination."

But he also acknowledges Rufus' talent "He certainly brings deep talents and potential to the challenge" and concedes "There are inspired touches and disarmingly beautiful passages in this mysterious, stylistically eclectic work."

I also love his analysis of the fall-out with the Met over writing this opera in French: "A Philip Glass opera in Sanskrit is an American work, but not a Wainwright opera in French?" I believe the critic's name is a smoke-screen. This should be said with a Yiddishe accent.

Certain remarks bode well for the album Rufus is planning to bring out next, just himself and a piano. "Some of the most captivating moments are the simplest musically." That's the Rufus I know!

"The opera ends with a tender aria for Régine, a long-spun melody with a gentle accompaniment riff: in other words, a Wainwright song. Would that there had been more of them."

Not quite a miracle, but not bad at all...

PS. I would be very much mistaken if this is not that aria, Les feux d'artifice t'appellent (The fireworks are calling you). It starts at 1:50. There's a couple of typical Rufus O Shit!s in there, but it was the first time he performed it (and he does have a tendency sometimes to get lost in his own music - I can't blame him, so do I.)

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