It is not news to anyone: Rufus Wainwright is grand. His theatrical style and endearing personality have conquered it all from the moon and back and his long-awaited concert series at Place-Des-Arts last weekend was a display of the mutual affection for the beloved 42 year-old artist and his faithful public.

Wainwright took the stage to present his opera piece Prima Donna, which he ambitiously wrote 6 years ago. The piece was primarily an order from the MET, who ended up refusing the production since the opera had been written in French, sealed by Rufus’ refusal to have it translated. As a result, the piece was later bought by the Manchester opera, which ended up being Prima Donna’s sole production to this day.

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Thus, it was a premiere night for Wainwright, who was visibly excited to present Prima Donna in his hometown for the first time. For the occasion, the artist selected excerpts from the elaborated works to be performed by opera singers Kathryn Guthrie, renowned soprano Lyne Fortin, and tenor Antonio Figueroa. A silent film featuring famous director Cindy Sherman as the lead role was projected as visual support.

The first part of the concert was a premium occasion to witness the beauty, the inventivity and the lyrical genius of Wainwright. However, as an opera amateur, there were a few flaws to the presentation. First of all, the orchestra was placed on the stage rather than in the orchestra pit where they normally would for an opera. Even if the singers were using microphones, the orchestra was overpowering the voices, making the lyrics or the nuances impossible to grasp. In its contemplative aesthetics, the film lacked of visual cues and direction that made it difficult for the audience to understand the storyline as the synopsis was not revealed prior.

However, there were some breathtaking moments especially during duets or when we heard piano and harp arrangements, a delightful oddity for an opera. Albeit spending very pleasant moment, the crowd was certainly impatient for the second half concert of the concert, in which Rufus was to interpret his pop songs with symphonic arrangements.

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After the break, Rufus came back on stage to present his songs, rearranged symphonically for the occasion. Captivating and funny as always, the composer picked hits from his repertoire with exultant renditions of “Oh What A World,” “I Don’t Know What This Is,” “Poses, Vibrate, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” and “Tiergarten,” which he adorably dedicated to his husband, who was present in the room.

Crooning of his imperial melodic declamation and manifest nasal timber, Rufus Wainwright’s flight of lyricism were a perfect harmonic embrace carried by wonderful acoustics. The static orchestra presented a contrast from the artist’s bombastic persona, which was more at ease when he sat at the piano where he could express his glorious piano playing. An enchanting moment took place as he invited his sister, the famous singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright to interpret a piece with him, a song titled “Martha” from a lesser-known opera which beautifully suited both voices as they made it their own. The performance reached a climax when Wainwright delivered ‘’Going To A Town’’ belting from his piano, the orchestra roaring behind.

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‘’I’m going to sing a song no one has ever hear’’ said Wainwright before inviting his sister and cousins to join him on stage, before concluding with Hallelujah. If such orchestration leaves little space for spontaneity, Rufus Wainwright’s resonated loud, beautiful and clear in all its splendour through the hour. Whether opera is an acquired taste or a given taste, all I had was a wonderful night.


RUFUS WAINWRIGHT played at Place-des-Arts on July 3, 2016 during the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

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About The Author

Collaborator - RREVERB

Christelle is a Montreal-based writer, musician and translator based and born in Montreal. An hyperactive brainard, her first love really is music. She makes a living putting words together in different contexts.