Monday, December 21, 2009

Sundance Channel presents "Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna"

On Monday Dec. 21 The Sundance Channel broadcast a documentary “Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna”, directed by George Scott. The Sundance link for the film is here.

It’s unusual for a young artists (Rufus is now 36) to achieve enough “notability” (a Wikipedia term) to get a documentary film made about him for cable. He was born in New York State but spent a lot of his youth in Montreal. He came out as gay as a teenager and could convince people he was older, and talked his way into clubs – a sensitive item to mention, but it does happen. The film mentions a gay bar named the Akbar in Los Angeles, but that sounds like a bizarre name for such a club.

Early in the documentary Rufus says that everyone needs to find a personal passion before puberty, or else he will fall under the spell of other people’s aims. He describes himself as a complete libertarian (I don’t recall hearing about him in my Libertarian Party of Minnesota days from 1997-2003).

The film talks about the classical music world, and the view of classical music as a “museum” art film, but Rufus seems to be trying to bridge the pop and classical worlds (but so did Leonard Bernstein). A lover raised in Germany introduced him to the world of Viennese music, including Mahler and Schoenberg. The classical audience is somewhat more demanding and critical.

In fact, an early scene in the documentary shows him trying out for a part in Puccini’s “Tosca”.

The documentary describes a period of drug abuse, where Rufus temporarily goes blind. Then he enters rehab. Later, his mother develops cancer, and Rufus works for her to hear his works.

The film goes briefly into his CD and DVD “Rufus Does Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall” (etc.).

Then the film shows his composition of “Prima Donna”, or “A Day in the Life of an Opera Singer”. The musical style is a mixture of pop and parody of late romanticism, with a touch of comedy. Some of it reminds one of Bernstein’s “Candide” a bit in spots. A little of it resembles Glass. There was some controversy over the commission with the Met. The work was premiered in Manchester, England.

Wikipedia mentions a 2006 DVD "All I Want" with a documentary "A Portrait of Rufus Wainwright."

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Montreal. My most recent visit was in August 1993.

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