Reader Matthew reminded Miss Mussel that she promised a few week ago to post the extra bits from her LA Times piece on Rufus Wainwright. Clearly the humidity is causing Ms Mussel’s already scattered brain to file more items than usual in the Abyss.
As usual, there is plenty of material to choose from. Here are the bits about Prima Donna, his theory on critics and the final word on the orchestration question.
Why there were such dramatic changes to the set and libretto for the Sadler’s Wells and Toronto versions. [The premiere was in Manchester in 2009]
There were several reasons, one is that on an artistic level there was way too much going on. The opera was written with the concept that it’s all set in one room until the second act where there’s a flashback and we return to the glory days of the, let’s say, Paris Opera.
After [the director] Daniel [Kramer] had his way with the piece there were 5 set changes in the first act. It was much more camp and over the top
It became more about the back story, what happened that fateful evening at the premiere six years ago, as opposed to what was going on in the opera. To be honest, there were moments of it I adored that I miss sometimes but I think the focus was in general pretty lost. Especially during that interlude in the second half where they finally reveal the drama of the backstage antics that no one really understood at that point.
There was the practical issue of the set didn’t fit anywhere else. They couldn’t get it out of the theatre! [laughs] The opera has to go to Australia and Canada and it couldn’t fit anywhere. I think his intentions were probably good. Unfortunately his insecurities took over at some point.
In terms of it being a new work for the opera world and the ever-tempestuous issue of a pop composer skipping into a more formal genre – he kind of put his energy into the sets almost like a Wizard of Oz type character behind the little curtain using flames to divert people
Once [director] Tim Albery got involved and Anthony McDonald who designed both sets, we had a pow-wow and realized that this opera is a very simple, straight-forward drawing room drama and a lot of the subtlety and the nuance is in the orchestration and in the music so you have to allow that happen.
I’m very very happy with the shift. It just relies a lot more on the singers to hold the piece and to transport it to the audience and it trusts the orchestra and the score and the composition to do what it’s meant to do.
One of the great additions in my opinion is Colin Ainsworth the tenor. You really do feel the sexual interplay is much more realistic.
What do you wish had gone differently?
There’s a few things in this whole process that I’m coming to terms with. Whether it’s my work with Daniel Kramer or let’s say the Metropolitan Opera there were some missed opportunities for what I think could have been a really incredible situation.
I think if Daniel had been a little bit more open. He shut me out of rehearsals until about three weeks before the performance and didn’t let me talk to anybody and was very insecure about my presence and perhaps my star status. But I do feel that if we had worked together and had integrated his wild ideas with my more subtle shifts it could have been really fantastic.
Also with the Met for instance, I think that if they had let me do it in French and perhaps had a little more time to flesh out over a 4-5 year period it could have really worked for both of us in a pretty meteoric way had we trusted each other a little more.
The main thing, above all of this, is that my mother got to see the opera in Manchester. That was the more spiritual reason for the hastening of the production. [Wainwright's mother Kate McGarrigle died in January 2010]
Can we talk about the critics for a minute?
Oh yes, let’s go! [lights up]
I’m talking about classical music criticism here because in pop music it is very different. The main thing about classical critics never pay attention to the audience. Whatever the audience thinks had no bearing, whereas in pop music that’s a fundamental part of it.
It doesn’t really matter what I think because the reaction I get so fundamental depending on what the critic says. If it’s a great critic I feel happy, if it’s a terrible critic I feel awful.
I would say that when my opera was first premiered it was traumatic but not as traumatic as the second time we did it in London. With the first time, I felt that each critic was reacting to it in their own personal way but the second time and maybe this is in my head but because the piece had been around and some of them had seen it twice and certain critics who had panned it the first time went in order to pan it again.
I’m not crying foul play by any means. There were these kind of three distinct groups that emerged. One of them was overt praise was fantastic but doesn’t necessarily serve my purposes but it is great, it is definitely an upper.
The middle group are people who analyze the piece and sift through it and decide what they think work and what they think doesn’t what it needs and what it doesn’t work. Most of those critics for Prima Donna were pretty rough but you know, encouraging and I would say positive in the end. No pushover’s there. That was a useful experience and I accepted it.
But then there was this third strain of very angry, very vitriolic, bitter and reckless criticism, which I was flabbergasted by only in terms of it being really a reaction to me as a celebrity doing this kind of work then to the piece itself. Granted, they’re allowed to hate the piece but my persona became sort of woven into the whole thing as though I was pissing on some altar.
It’s a three-headed monster I guess!
Did you orchestrate the score yourself?
I orchestrated the opera. I wrote every single note. 8 hours a day for over a year I would go in. I worked with an assistant Bryan Senti and yes, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without him in terms of me saying well what time signature is this in and how would you notate this. Some people have argued that he really did it because he translated.