So I got my hands on the DVD documentary about Rufus Wainwright and the genesis of Prima Donna. There’s not all that much of the music on the disk but there’s enough to get a general impression. There’s also plenty of material for helping one judge where Wainwright is coming from and how he might approach a second opera.
The music in Prima Donna isn’t awful but it’s hardly revolutionary. The thing is through sung, has some decent melodies and is easy on the ear. Also, much has been made of the fact that Wainwright had help with the orchestration. True, but I think he knew exactly what he wanted the music to sound like, he just didn’t have the technical skills to make it happen. Les feux d’artifices, probably the best known aria, in the opera demonstrates that this aspect is not without interest.
The most interesting part of the doc, for me, was the light it cast on Wainwright’s taste in and knowledge of, opera. For him it is (or at least was) all about the big French and Italian operas on an arc that ends with Puccini. As a kid he made home movies with his cousins based on pieces like Tosca. He says he always played the bad guy but I think he really wanted, and wants now, to be Maria Callas. His partner points out that, until they met, Rufus was almost entirely unfamiliar with the German repertoire. Think about it. Here’s a guy who has never listened to the operas that start to deal with “what happens next”. At least if you buy into the idea that Puccini had taken a certain developmental arc as far as it could go (and maybe a little further). He also admits to having pretty much written off English as a language for opera. That rules out a huge slice of post 1945 repertoire. I guess what I’m saying is if one were completely unfamiliar with Wagner, Strauss, Berg and Britten then Prima Donna is the sort of piece one might come up with.
So now he’s watching Wagner and has decided to set an English language libretto. Who knows what he might make of it? The guy is clearly very talented and very, very weird. Hadrian could turn out to be more interesting than I originally thought.
In other Canadian opera news, the National Post carried a piece by Arthur Kaptainis yesterday that contained the news that the COC will revive or remount Harry Somers’ Louis Riel on its 50th anniversary in 2017. This is good news indeed. Putting together a few other pieces of gossip it seems highly likely that Christine Goerke will make her COC debut as Brünnhilde next season in a revival of Atom Egoyan’s Die Walküre.