Rufus Wainwright really wants to record Prima Donna

Rufus Wainwright really wants to record Prima Donna

Jenna Simeonov

Rufus Wainwright is eager to make a studio recording of his first opera, Prima Donna, and the only thing stopping him is money. Rufus has yet to find a financial backer for the project, so he has turned to crowdfunding to find the cash on his own. He has set up the Prima Donna project on Pledge Music, stating, “It is vitally important to me that ‘Prima Donna’ be properly recorded and released so that I can tour a concert version of it in the coming year.” He mentions his opera’s short-yet-turbulent performance history, including the “sold out shows in London and Toronto” and the “early rocky days with the Metropolitan Opera,” and states that Prima Donna “is a solid and viable offering that both people love performing in and audiences enjoy watching and listening to. It’s vitally important we get a quality recording for generations to come.” In what seems like an odd choice, Rufus is also offering up a few incentives for bigger spenders. He’s selling stuff like outfits that he wore onstage or on album covers, one of seven conductor’s batons from the Prima Donna recording, £1500, and you can even buy a spot in the “glorious choir” that will back up Rufus as he sings his famous anthem, “Hallelujah”. The catch with that one is that the concerts are in Australia and it doesn’t look like travel is included in the ~$100 price.

Something about this feels fishy. I can’t think of anything objectively offensive about Rufus Wainwright reaching out to his fan base in order to fund one of his projects. But, like, the clothes, and the “I want to do a tour version” reasoning; I can’t shake the feeling that Rufus is into writing opera for the wrong reasons. I suppose there isn’t one answer to the question of why one should or shouldn’t write an opera, but there are a lot of things about Rufus’ relationship with opera that make me think he’s in it for the glamour. For the fabulousness. He has said, “I think in our modern world, among younger audiences especially, there’s a hunger for a sort of spectacle that the opera world thinks is no longer relevant.” That whole “spectacle” idea is what’s skewed with Rufus, in my opinion; the whole thing about insisting Prima Donna would be sung in French (more glamourous that way, I suppose), how he showed up to the Manchester premiere dressed as Verdi, and now Rufus’ selling little tastes of glamour via a crowdfunding campaign; it all smells of high art, all dolled up without knowing exactly why. And it feels a bit disrespectful. That spectacle is there in opera because the stories and the characters warrant it; I wonder sometimes if Rufus truly understands that, that it’s not glamour making drama, but the other way around.

I mean, it doesn’t take much to notice that Rufus Wainwright fancies himself a bit of an aesthete. And I suppose even Verdi knew he was writing hits at the time. But they were never hits for their own sake. Rufus writes, “Exciting rehearsals, deep conversations, strange and colorful characters, not to mention many a silly moment, all of this I’m truly excited to experience with you until that glorious moment when the conductor, myself the composer, the orchestra, the singers and the recording crew turn on the red light and put down for posterity my first magnum opus, ‘Prima Donna.’” I figure that this Prima Donna recording and his future operatic endeavours (including his upcoming COC commission, Hadrian), will remain not about opera, or even this opera, but about Rufus.

To judge for yourself, visit the Prima Donna Pledge Music page right here.


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