Sunday, September 12, 2010

raise the Rufus!

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I am a bad Rufus Wainwright fan. I have only one album, Poses, from his entire catalog. I've heard interviews with him and seen random performance videos, but never followed up on any of his work. Regardless, I think he's one of the most insanely talented and interesing musicans around. So when I saw he would be doing a one-time engagement with the Oregon Symphony right here in Portland, I immediately grabbed tickets.

Yeah, I know this was 7 years ago. It's still awesome.

The show was at the Arlene Schnitzer Music Hall (the Schnitz, to locals), a venerable Portland classic. It's a true concert hall built for opera performances, which made it the perfect venue for this event. It was particularly appropriate since part of the performance came from Wainwright's opera, Prima Donna.
Now I'm no huge opera fan; not because I hate it, but because I never really took the time to expose myself to the art form. While I appreciate the talent it takes to sing (unamplified!) the parts, I've never really liked the operatic singing style. I just want to get that out of the way early so a) you don't expect any true level of knowledge in what you're reading here, and b) nobody confuses this with a blog from the New York Times' opera critic and thinks he/she has suffered a traumatic head injury.
The first part of the show focused on pieces from Prima Donna. This happened to be the first time any of the opera was performed for a US audience, so it felt pretty special to be there. After a brief introduction by Rufus, the music began. I can't say with any authority what it sounded like (a bed of Rachmaninoff wrapped in a swirling haze of Berlioz, leaving just the slightest aftertaste of Chopin...whatever) so I'll just say that it was compelling and lovely. Two amazing sopranos performed four short acts that, though a little slow to an opera novice, were beautiful. I would sit through the whole opera and enjoy it, I think. I just wish I knew French so I could have stopped focusing on the translation screen.


The rest of the show was Rufus performing his own works, classical works, and various songs including some Judy Garland numbers. His voice was dead-on the entire evening and he was fun to watch. The Garland numbers in particular were boisterous and it was obvious he loved singing them. You can see him perform these tunes on the recently released DVD from a live show called Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! does Judy! Judy! Judy! I'll be picking that up very soon.

The last few numbers included his excellent cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (accompanied by the vocals of Janis Kelly, who had performed pieces of the opera earlier, and local celebrity Storm Large) and a heartrending version of a McGarrigle Sisters song, "Kitty Come Home." Wainwright's mother, Kate McGarrigle, passed away this January so it was particularly touching to hear him sing a song written for and about her.
I wish this were a touring show so I could tell you to go see it at all costs. The best I can do is tell you it was incredible and recommend seeing Rufus Wainwright live when you can. He truly is one of the best performers around.

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