Saturday, 11 July 2009

Papa Rufus!

In musical terms this is a momentous night for me. Let me explain...

I've always loved music in its multitude of forms, from my rock and pop teenage years, to my explorations of jazz, blues and country in my early twenties. I started to explore classical music and at the age of 28 I 'discovered' opera.

There's literally hundreds of years of classical music and operas to be explored and I managed to avoid listening to ANY non-classical/opera music for 12 years. My rock and pop collection gathered dust, except for the 600 LPs that my mum donated to the firemen's jumble sale. (Kids, learn from me...take your music with you when you leave home!)

At some point in 2004 there was an interview on a TV arts program with a guy named Rufus Wainwright. I'd heard the name before, but it didn't mean anything to me. The interview took place in the Royal Opera House, London, and this singer turned out to be a passionate fan of Giuseppe Verdi and opera in general. That piqued my interest! Even more so when I learnt that he was the son of Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle.

Who they, you might ask? Well, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, folky Montreal sisters, were my favourite performers from the late seventies. I had all their albums and had seen them in concert many times. If you look at the sleeve notes of their first classic eponymous debut album you'll see a credit to the babysitter for looking after baby Rufus!

Man, I suddenly felt old, but I checked out the recordings of this 2nd generation Wainwright/McGarrigle and found a fascinating artist. His sophisticated pop made constant references to classical music and opera, sometimes obvious, sometimes very subtle.

A couple of years ago the news came that the Metropolitan Opera in New York had commissioned Rufus to write an opera. Astonishingly, the relationship seemed to founder because Rufus wanted to write his opera in French, not English. (Strange, I've been to the Met several times and never heard an opera sung in English!)

Thankfully, a canny person at the Manchester International Festival stepped into the breach and offered to stage the premiere performances of Prima Donna.

I haven't heard or seen it yet, but the preview clips sound fantastic. 19th century French opera, complete with REAL TUNES!

I doubt I'll get to Manchester for a performance, but I'm pleased to see that the production is already scheduled for London, Melbourne and Toronto.

If you wondered why Rufus has sprouted a beard, I think the answer lies here, with Papa Verdi: