Rufus Wainwright-The Story of an Opera

By Berg, Gregory | Journal of Singing, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview

Rufus Wainwright-The Story of an Opera


Berg, Gregory, Journal of Singing


Rufus Wainwright-The Story of an Opera. (Decca B0014389-09; 128:00)

We have all heard the warning that opera is in danger of becoming nothing more than a musical museum, a storehouse of past masterworks endlessly recycled for a dwindling audience. Some observers believe this is already the case and even now are administering last rites to the art form. A closer look reveals a more complicated and ultimately more encouraging picture. Opera may be the grandest and most extravagant of all art forms, but it continues to demonstrate surprising resiliency even in these tough economic times. Remarkably, new operas continue to be created, and some of the most intriguing have been created by musicians who come to opera from other realms, including the world of popular music. It is an artistic rendezvous that can be exceedingly difficult to pull off, but even those attempts that end in limited success or even failure can be fascinating and instructive lessons in what music is about, what opera is about, and what it means to collaborate across stylistic divides.

That's certainly the case with The Prima Donna, an opera crafted by Canadian-American pop singer Rufus Wainwright, and the subject of this revelatory documentary by George Scott. The opera began its life as a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, but composer and opera company parted company over the choice of the language in which the libretto would be written. (The Met wanted the opera in English, but Wainwright insisted that it be in French.) The project eventually found its way to the Manchester International Festival, where it received what the liner notes describe as a "final triumphant staging" in 2009. Aside from the fact that one never wishes that any production of a new opera be its final one, this description scarcely aligns with the reality of the decidedly mixed and mostly negative reviews that the work received. Unfortunately, we are shown too little of the actual opera, especially in its finished state, to formulate much of an opinion about its overall artistic worth, although what we see of the mad scene, with soprano Janis Kelly in mesmerizing form, leaves us hungry to see and hear more.

The documentary may not serve up quite as much of the actual opera as we might want, but in every other way it is a thoroughly compelling look inside the creative process and the sometimes awkward collaborations through which the opera ultimately came into being. It also offers an intensely revealing portrait of Wainwright himself, a musician of prodigious gifts and boundless creativity who relishes not only the spotlight but also his own quirky uniqueness. Wainwright is the son of professional folk musicians-both interviewed in the film-and Rufus found himself exposed to all kinds of music and artistic expression from a very early age. At one point in the film, Rufus and mother tell the story of when the young boy heard an aria from Edouard Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys featuring the Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli, and they actually retrieve that very same scratchy record and listen to it again to relive the moment when young Rufus first fell in love with opera. Especially delightful are the charming home movie excerpts that show young Rufus and his sister acting out scenes such as the second act of Puccini's Tosca, complete with props and costumes, while a recording of the opera plays in the background. (No Hansel and Gretel or Amahl and the Night Visitors for him! The youngster is too busy playing Scarpia!)

The film charts Wainwright's explosive success as a professional musician, and we're treated to a generous sampling of his onstage work, including a headlines generating project in which he recreated Judy Garland's magnificent 1961 comeback concert at Carnegie Hall. We're told that Wainwright had never received much in the way of professional voice training, although soprano Renée Fleming suggests that his largely instinctive approach to singing has probably allowed him to accomplish certain things he would not have even attempted had he known more about proper vocalism. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Rufus Wainwright-The Story of an Opera
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.