Critics split on Wainwright move from pop to opera

Mon Jul 13, 2009 11:22am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright says opera saved his life more than once, and he has begun to pay it back with his first full-length work "Prima Donna" which premiered in Manchester earlier this month.

With trademark flamboyance, a bearded Wainwright dressed up as 19th century composer Verdi, complete with long black coat and top hat, for the opening night on Friday.

The musician appeared to be placing himself on an operatic pedestal even before his first work was performed, but early reviews of his debut opera suggested Wainwright may struggle to convince critics he is worthy of a place among the greats.

The Globe and Mail of Canada was complimentary, giving "Prima Donna" three stars out of four and calling the premiere "a thoroughly entertaining, if slightly barmy, evening."

Reviewer Elizabeth Renzetti had particularly warm praise for the ending, where central character Regine sings as she watches Bastille Day fireworks from her Paris balcony.

"It's a contemplative moment that contains more ideas than the preceding two hours," she wrote.

In a more mixed review, Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times agrees:

"The opera ends with a tender aria for Regine, a long-spun melody with a gentle accompaniment riff: in other words, a Wainwright song. Would that there had been more of them."

Lynne Walker of the Independent gave Prima Donna two stars out of five, and described it as a "flimsy plot ... spun out into a cheesy piece of full-length musical theater.   Continued...

<p>Singer Rufus Wainwright arrives at the premiere of the film "The Aviator," in Hollywood, California December 1, 2004. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>