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Posts Tagged ‘Prima Donna’

The Wainwright-McGarrigle musical dynasty has been part of my life now for 40 years. The first Kate & Anna McGarrigle album is on my personal soundtrack of the 70’s. Loudon was always lingering there in the background, though I never took to his quirkiness as I did to the McGarrigles gorgeous harmonies. I came late to Rufus, when Want One bowled me over little more than 6 years ago, but have since bought every record and taken every opportunity to see him live. A year or so later I went to see Martha at the Bloomsbury Theatre out of curiosity (with a singer-songwriter called James Morrison supporting!) and from then I was hooked on her too. She provided one of the highlights of 2010 with a solo show at the Jazz Cafe, a break from nursing her premature baby, and contributed greatly to another highlight, the Kate McGarrigle tribute concert that was part of Richard Thompson’s Meltdown – another musical dynasty – which I suspect will prove to be a highlight of a lifetime of concert-going let alone last year.

When I heard Rufus was to have a one week residency at the Royal Opera House, I couldn’t decide if it was brave, arrogant or sheer chutzpah. After picking myself off the floor having seen the ticket prices, it wasn’t difficult to decide which of the concerts to go to. I’d seen his opera Prima Donna twice, so I didn’t want to see part of it in concert, and I wasn’t sure he and his dad Loudon were particularly compatible stage partners.

The first of my selected two was his concert with sister Martha. This may be Rufus’ ROH debut, but it wasn’t Martha’s as she’d been part of a brilliant production of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins here a few years back. This concert wasn’t what I was expecting, and I suspect fans of the family liked it more than those of just Rufus, but it was still a treat. Martha, after a slow start, delivered a wonderfully eclectic hour of her own songs plus some from her mum and a couple of Piaf’s. She’s growing into as much of an original and as much of a star as her brother. I was expecting Rufus to give us his own selection, but half-way through, on came Martha, then cousin Lily (Anna’s daughter), and we got another eclectic selection which included more Kate McGarrigle songs, a Leonard Cohen song (‘my father-in-law, well, sort of’!) and the Elton John / Kiki Dee duet Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, which was huge fun. Calum, the son of Ewan MacColl (another folk dynasty!) was on guitar so we got Ewan’s lovely homage to London – Sweet Thames, Flow Softly – which was deeply moving, though not as moving as Kate’s Talk To Me of Mendocino, where there wasn’t a dry eye in my seat in the House of Rufus.

When he first did Rufus Does Judy, I couldn’t get excited about it. I wasn’t a Judy Garland fan and didn’t really see the point. Much later, I caught it on TV and then got the point, so seeing it live became a must. By the interval, I wasn’t sure but the second half (when he came on as a queen in crown and robe!) soared and my the end I was absolutely convinced. The arrangements are terrific and his extraordinary voice really suits these songs. The Britten Sinfonia, under Stephen Oremus, was a great backing band, though a shade too loud occasionally, burying the voice. Highlights included two songs with just piano – Gershwin’s A Foggy Day and Noel Coward’s If Love Were All – plus You Go To My Head, Putting on the Ritz, Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart and Chicago. Martha’s almost stole the show with a brilliant version of Stormy Weather (in tutu, tiara and some accomplished but tongue-in-cheek ballet moves!).

So, not arrogant…..yes, brave……yes, chutzpah……and two fine musical evenings I shall cherish with all the other Wainwright-McGarrigle memories.

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MUSIC

Rufus Wainwright’s solo show at Sadler’s Wells took place on the stage of his opera, which opened there the night before. In the first half we were asked not to applaud as he walked on, during the set and as he walked off. He entered bedecked in a cloak with a train longer than the stage, walking as if leading a funeral procession. What followed was effectively a requiem for his recently deceased mother – the whole of the new album played in near darkness against a backdrop of giant projections of his eyes covered in black make-up. The voice still extraordinary, the piano playing with the power of an orchestra, this staging was deeply moving, very sad but musically stunning. In the second half he was back to his charming knowingness playing a real ‘best of’ set chosen by fans voting on his web site. He ended with his mother’s ‘Walking Song’ but couldn’t complete it without a tear – and some of us who loved his mother’s music shared it. He forgot his words or notes rather more than was acceptable, but in the end you only remember the wonderful songs, gorgeous baritone voice and rich piano accompaniment. Surreal but sublime.

At the Royal Court, they sometimes showcase work-in-progress and I went to Ten Plague Songs (actually, I think there were 16), a song cycle about the 17th century London plague by young musicals composer Connor Mitchell and playwright Mark Ravenhill. The singers included 80’s pop star Marc Almond, modern opera favourite Omar Ebrahim and musical’s veteran Nigel Richards and it was staged by opera director Stewart Laing, but I’m afraid it did little for me. The music was rather inaccessible and the lyrics not particularly striking. The last song (before the epilogue) was terrific, but by then it was a bit late.

Paul Brady’s London concert was his first in what seems like ages. What I remember most about the last one was how he annoyed much of the audience by banging on about how Irish immigrants were treated by the UK; on this occasion he prefaced the same song, Nothing But The Same Old Story,  with a rather defensive ‘this could be any country….’! This is one of his best songs; unfortunately, it showed up almost everything else as bland MOR music, a transition to which has been going on for years but now seems complete. He’s certainly lost his edge and I suspect I won’t be seeing him again. Judging by his inability to fill that many seats at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (they closed the second and third levels completely) I suspect I’m not on my own.

OPERA

I Saw Rufus Wainwright’s first opera, Prima Donna, at the Manchester International Festival last summer (see July 2009 archive) and thought it was an impressive debut. This new production at Sadler’s Wells improves on that staging but if anything it’s slipped back musically, particularly in the first act. The new tenor isn’t good enough for the part, and Rebecca Bottone is again sometimes shrill and sometimes inaudible over the overloud orchestra which the new conductor fails to deal with. The second act though is masterly, there’s some gorgeous music, Janis Kelly is even better than before and the ending is now terrific. For his second opera, lets see something just as romantic but also more dramatic; there’s not a lot of story here for 130 minutes playing time.

DANCE

I’ve seen Mark Morris’ masterpiece L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato three times in the last 15 years but the last was 10 years ago, so withdrawal symptoms had set it. Despite the fact that he created this 22 years ago, it’s still the most uplifting show – a gorgeous Handel oratorio, beautifully played and sung, with designs in primary colours and costumes in pastel chiffon and dancing that is flowing, funny and bright. Bring on No 5…..

Pictures from an Exhibition is a hybrid theatre / dance piece given a couple of nights at Sadler’s Wells following a longer run at the much smaller Young Vic last year. Based on and featuring Mussorgsky’s music, with the composer as a central character in what appears to be a biographical piece, it’s rather hit-and-miss. There are some great moments, but there are lots of almost silent interludes too and it just doesn’t flow. It seemed like work-in-progress to me and a rather slight 60 minutes.

 OTHER

A visit with the RA friends to Skinner’s Hall was a rare opportunity to see Frank Brangwyn’s murals. I got really interested in this Welsh artist when I went to a museum in Bruges devoted to him – he left much of his work to his adopted city rather than his home city of Swansea, which seems to me to be a shame as I’m not sure many people ever go to see it! Anyway, they were fascinating and the rest of the hall and the history of this livery company were bonuses.

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