Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Prima Donna (Opera- Manchester International Festival)

Anna and I went to see Rufus Wainwright's debut opera Prima Donna on Sunday, it was the second performance, after opening on Friday night with Rufus sitting in the audience dressed like Verdi and his boyfriend dressed like Puccini.
On Sunday Rufus was dressed like some kind of tramp. The top half was a bit like Jonathan Pryce in the film The Doctor and the Devils a mediocre Burke and Hare flick. big hobo beard, top hat with fly-fishing trunklements on the side, tweed jacket over a gross shirt, pale jeans and roman sandals. He was outside the theatre when we arrived signing autographs etc. it was possibly the highlight of the show.
twelve quid seats with restricted legroom, ah, my favourite. Though actually the legroom was a lot better than I remembered- many moons ago we saw Tommy Steele in Scrooge one Christmas, coincidentally he'll be reprising that role this panto season!- no the seats were good seats, nice view, enough legoom that we only got cramp a couple of times, yeah, fine, it was only the audience around us that were intolerable. I had a loud-eater next to me, it sounded like he was eating in my ear- shudder- Anna had three miserable gay lads who looked thouroughly disappointed throughout, and in front of us was the pièce de résistance; OCD man with theatre-shawl.
The opera we felt could do with a bit more work. Anna insists there were a few good "numbers" and I felt sure when we watched the Imagine special on BBC1 last week that there were some lovely melodies, but I only remember really enjoying the music at one point and that was near the end. I know that opera is obvious written to be performed, to be seen live, but I really thought I'd enjoy it a lot more listening to a recording in the dark. Other noises distracted me, the guy on my left for instance, but creaking sets and people coughing are never good while trying to enjoy classical music. I also found the subtitles very intrusive.
We tried to explain to mother that in the last twenty years- since technology was invented- ALL operas are subtitled (in big theatres), so it was to be expected. But really the French they were singing in was very basic so I knew what they were saying (and the story was self-explanitory anway), and with the subtitles there before the words were sung I found myself predicting the next words instead of listening to the music!! So that was very stupid. Apart from that though I didn't like the big stark set, come on think of something more original than that! The costumes were ok, but did it have to be set in the 70s? Why couldn't it be set anytime? Little bits of staging were clever, but it was only when all five characters were on the stage that it didn't look empty!
And now to the story: predictable, it's like Sunset Boulevard excpet she's not as mental, journalist comes in to interview fading opera star, she falls in love with him, the end.
I don't feel I know enough about opera to say whether the actors were good or not, they all did well- though sometimes couldn't be heard over the music (the orchestra was great by the way!)- but after watching Imagine, and being a fan of Rufus Wainwright for a long time, I have a feeling I would have much prefered listening to or watching him sing the complete score.

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