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Is opera meant to be fun?

July 10, 2010 |  9:00 am

Ruf
In July 2009, Rufus Wainwright’s first opera, "Prima Donna," premiered in Manchester, England.  Since then, there have been productions in London and Toronto.  Critical reception has varied wildly, but the aggregate flaw seems to be that opera is a bit of bonbon, a light evening’s entertainment rather than a serious encounter with art.
 
After seeing the show in Manchester and again in Toronto, I can confirm that it is indeed a bit of fun at the theater.  But, is that necessarily such a bad thing?

When I chatted with Wainwright last month, he had this to say about his operatic fluffiness:
 

“If you’re a classical music scholar, you’re not going to get much out of ['Prima Donna'] in terms of theories or analyzing the intricacies of what I’m trying to do on a contemporary level, but if you’re an opera fan and you're in for a romantic evening at the theater – which I still brake for – it’s worth it.”

One of life’s great mysteries is why some pieces become part of the canon while others fall by the wayside. "Carmen," one of the most often presented operas, was torn to pieces by the critics at its premiere.

Says Wainwright: “There is a kind of hierarchy and strict system that exists that is very much exclusionary to certain composers and ideas that I personally find fascinating.  What makes Verdi different to Donizetti?  What makes one melody greater than another? What is that secret? What is that mystery?  That’s what’s always interested me the most.”

See what else interests Wainwright in my article in the Arts & Books section.

-- Marcia Adair

Photo: Rufus Wainwright. Credit: Kevin Westernberg
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