Cher Public

I gave my love a cherry that had no tone

Rufus (Prima Donna) Wainwright sinks his teeth into a little Mascagni, partnered by a very game Sarah Fox.  

  • Podlesmania

    Quickly, call 911, my ears are bleeding!

  • littoraldrift

    A lovely reminder this sort of pairing need not be a trainwreck — if the lighter singer is musical, actually singing:

    • Podlesmania

      … or you have something like this (that I have previously seen in Parterre, but lovely nevertheless!)

  • After a few seconds, I decided that I love this duet too much to listen any further. But I’m not against this kind of cross-over and I salute RW for trying to bring opera to his audience.

    • mrsjohnclaggart

      I know that RW does indeed love opera, and feels keenly as all should that the form needs to be made more accessible to those under 40, with an emphasis on those in their teens and twenties. This access was once provided on prime time networks when there were only three, more than most people here could know, also on radio. Also at a certain point between 1950 and 1985 or so there were many regional companies, not all first rate, but nonetheless doing actual performances for real audiences, not all of them ancient. But gradually at first and by 2001 this simply all dried up.

      But the eternal question is how? Even small companies run into money trouble (it’s just as hard to raise $5000 as it is to raise $50,000) and it’s a ruinously expensive form. Moreover, it’s impossible to count on young people who attend a certain “event” performance returning to something else. In a society with an enormous number of options for self-curated entertainment just what creates intensity of response and a desire to return in enough people for there to be both donors and audiences is a puzzle.

      Rufus is awful above. What he does is campy and weird and I don’t think most 25-year-olds needs his help to feel that opera is indeed campy and weird. After hearing Opera Philadelphia’s elaborate plans for next season and seeing what has been happening at the Philadelphia Orchestra, I am saddened by the desperation and entirely unconvinced that any of what they plan really will work.

      This is Joan Sutherland, absolutely in her prime, when there were just three Networks, in prime time on the very popular Dinah Shore show. Nothing is shortened, cut, faked or camped. This is 1963, I don’t even think there were remote controls by then. People who loved Dinah simply stuck with the show.

      • Batty Masetto

        Mrs JC, I was pleasantly surprised to see a substantial percentage of what I would guess to be under-40s at Meistersinger (of all things!) in San Francisco on Friday. Not only that, but they seem to have stuck it out right through Act III and were still following the action enough to provide good solid laughs at the subtitled dialogue in both scenes. (They were helped by a detailed, generous-spirited production, a very engaging cast and wonderful conducting, but still – Meistersinger!?! I mean, I’ve loved it since I was 16, but I just assumed I was weird.)

        I’m not a Gockley-worshipper by any means, but whatever he’s been doing to draw young people into the opera house seems to be working, and he deserves praise for it. SFO has certainly worked hard on extensive online outreach and they’ve set up a special “Bravo Club” with discounted tickets and social events for people 21-40. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if there’s high-tech money behind the venture somewhere that might not be available everywhere, but still, good for him for getting access to it.

        I wish other companies could hook into his formula.

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Batty, Michael Kaiser in one of his three books about the survival of the arts in an America that can be foreseen (it’s very tricky to prophesy the future) talks about the location of companies. An opera company, classical dance company, symphony orchestra, a serious theater company with high standards that actually pays participants, all need a flush donor class. They also all need a high percentage of audience members with solid disposable incomes.

          He feels that an arts endeavor that becomes central to the culture of a big city where there are big firms (and not just branches of multi-national corporations) might have if well run, a chance to attract major money from those big firms, who can make their own decisions about what is to be gained by supporting a local arts initiative.

          The executives of those firms can give money individually as well (as long as there is a tax break), and some can serve profitably on boards. A technique described by both Kaiser and Reynold Levy is to subdivide boards so that members are each charged individually with putting together smaller donors as part of their duties. In a wealthy corporate environment, those board members can go to colleagues for gifts and try to recruit them to a greater interest.

          Finally, a well-heeled audience can afford more expensive seats on a frequent basis. Tickets for students can be underwritten by one of the local firms, so free or very cheap seats can be had on the basis of a student ID. Local firms can also underwrite company based and regular outreach to the city, in general, (events in the parks for example), to schools of all kinds, to poorer communities and to suburban communities, not only to introduce them to the art form but to draw them into commuting in now and again.

          In an American city where the big firms are branches of multi-national corporations, headquartered in Europe or Asia, the likelihood of generous and regular giving by such firms to local arts would be smaller. The class of very wealthy individuals would be smaller, as would the number of individuals with good disposable income. The “educated” population might be more transient since promotions to bigger regional offices would be sought after, and the pursuit of better jobs perhaps in cheaper areas would be more pressing. A similar arts company might want to try many of the same things as that successful company, but be unable to find underwriting.

          Kaiser believes the subscription as the foundation of institutional health in America is dead; people of all ages want to choose their own entertainment as they please, and this culture continues to expand the ways people can experience a range of things in their own homes whenever and for as long as they feel like it. He thinks that’s a great challenge.

          But if San Francisco is doing so well that single tickets are hard to come by or rely on, then the notion of subscription perhaps becomes more feasible again.

          So, I think, San Francisco might be one of those blessed cities with a ton of locally controlled prosperous businesses, many millionaires and commutable suburbs from which people could gain access easily. Finally, it’s a place with a lot of schools. I don’t think it’s easy, but it’s probably easier there than in many Midwestern and most Southern cities, to find the combination of money and bodies to keep an opera company going, and perhaps additional art institutions.

          Kaiser thinks, though, that eventually, streaming events will dominate “serious arts”. These can be seen all over the world theoretically, and if impressive enough, bring in donors and supporters from areas where there are more people educated in the arts. Also streaming from other companies (in Europe for example) can help create stars, which have been in short supply in all the arts for twenty years. They can no longer rely on CD; DVD and Blu-Ray sales have taken a hit and newspapers are dying, and in their death throes are cutting way back on their arts coverage. The way stars were created into the 1980s have gone.

          His theory is that as singers, dancers, conductors, instrumentalists become famous through streaming, people will pay to see them live and if enough of these people emerge it will be possible to keep big companies and orchestras going.

          I don’t know but…

          • Batty Masetto

            No doubt at all that disposable income has an enormous role to play. SF is developing into one of the most lopsided economies in the country, with lots of young people making lots of money and making things tough for those who don’t make nearly as much.

            But even by that yardstick it would seem like NYC, Boston and Chicago would still qualify for the Gockley method (whatever that may be). For St. Louis, New Orleans, etc. … not so rosy, of course.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Well, Kaiser seems to think it’s a city by city issue. I can’t guess what makes San Francisco so competitive now. Poor Met, attendance seems to be rocky and 19 or 20 continuous weeks with about three weeks pre-season rehearsals and that army of unionized people (not anti-union but it’s difficult) — not the most hopeful feeling. I assume, however, the Met is still a potent “brand” though one with a lot of competition in NY (I mean Broadway, the various series at Carnegie Hall, City Ballet and so on). Well, I have no crystal ball and am happy for anyone who saw Paul Schoeffler as their first Sachs (he was mine too, although I was a babe, when I could appreciate the opera more it was Otto Edelmann OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER and I always thought he was detestable (not personally, didn’t know him, but flat and dull).

        • lorenzo.venezia

          Batty, I was also 16 for my first Meistersinger, SF Opera in the LA “season” at Shrine Auditorium, with Lisa Della Casa, Fritz Uhl as Hans Sachs, and Geraint Evans as Beckmesser. I was MEISmerized. And trust me, I was also a weird kid! I ushered in those days (1961) so I saw it several times and couldn’t wait for more :-)

          • Krunoslav

            Fritz Uhl was a tenor-- recording a mismatched Tristan opposite Nilsson. Paul Schoeffler would have been your Hans Sachs.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              yes, of course. But I was only 16…

          • Batty Masetto

            Lorenzo, I don’t want to cover ground that Greg Freed has covered so well already, but Friday’s performance was really a beauty, in spite of the slightly weak Sachs (who was not bad, just not up to the others’ level). Jovanovich isn’t the absolute smoothest Walther vocally, but all the same he has a very appealing tone and radiates musical and theatrical intelligence. He’s dashing as hell. And for once the Preislied didn’t sound like a weightlifting contest.

            I knew the production already from the Glyndebourne DVD but apart from the Sachs, this cast was equal or superior to the English crew on all fronts. Especially the conducting! Act III i was so well done by all, and so beautifully paced by Elder (can’t praise him enough!) that by the time the quintet rolled around I was a tearful wreck and was worrying the people next to me would think I had a terrible cold.

            Two nights later the score is still running through my head.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Now, Batty, wasn’t there someone here who thought act three was the worst stretch in Wagner? Here is the Nazi quintet — all it needs is Rufus as David! (for voice not politics) I think only Laholm the tenor wasn’t a party member — Lemnitz, Bokelmann, Zimmerann (the last two tried to have Herbie the K arrested because of the way he spoke to them during a rehearsal in Berlin and went straight to Hitler. He laughed at them. This is of course, The Big Baton, Willy the Furt, not a Nazi either but always an equivocal figure.


            • mrsjohnclaggart


              and I AM in this one which starts earlier, Maria Reining, with othern:

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              And the very greatest Elizabeth Rethberg in 1925 with Freidrich Schorr in “O Sachs! Mein Freund” The story of my life.

              And Schorr singing “Wahn! Wahn!” in 1929, I believe that was the year he very wisely became an American citizen.

        • SilvestriWoman

          I’m seeing the same thing at Lyric Opera of Chicago -- both in the balcony and the orchestra. In fact, much of the audience seems to pull from opposite ends of the spectrum. If anything, there seem to be fewer 30- and 40-somethings. Home with the kids?

      • lyrebird

        Farwk!. The production values are stunning. Whoever was directing that knew how to handle Joan in front of a camera.

  • I admit I had to look the chap up on Google to find out who he was.

  • antikitschychick

    Well I loved this. First of all, he looks sexy af and is having fun. Those sideburns are on fleek. Secondly Sara Fox sounds great. Lastly his Italian is better than that of a lot singers I’ve heard at Met :-P.

    • manou

      “Un giaio rossignolo”…not very Italian. The arm movements have a certain italianità.

  • SilvestriWoman

    The main problem? Wainwright’s flat, expressionless voice… He could learn a lot about singing opera, albeit with limited vocal resources, from Maestro Wenarto.

    • DerLeiermann

      His Bolena is actually really good,haha.

  • Porgy Amor

    All these poses of classical-crossover torture.

    • olliedawg

      Porgi…I got the reference, and have to confess I LOVE that song. Ah, to be young and fabulous and already jaded…RW gets it just right.

      • Porgy Amor

        It’s a great album, Poses. I like some things he’s done on either side of it, but nothing as much.

  • danpatter

    I like the kind of crossover where Madame Nilsson sings “I Could Have Danced All Night” or Madame Tebaldi sings “If I Loved You.” In other words, when a legitimate singer goes slumming a bit. I do not like the sort of thing where a Michael Bolton decides to croon a few arias with enough reverb to actually render pitches indistinguishable. I couldn’t listen to much of this excerpt by Wainwright. Bad idea, Rufus.

  • olliedawg

    WTF is RW wearing?

    My ears aren’t bleeding. Ms. Fox sounds pretty fine, and Rufus seems to be having so much fun, genuinely loves the music, sings with feeling, wonderful diction,lovely musicality, and a love for the form. As someone else commented, his Italian is way better than some of the singers I’ve heard at the Met. And, he’s adorable…still…

  • Sir Ferris

    I give him a little credit for seeking out the Cherry Duet, instead of defaulting to the omnipresent Nessun dorma….

    • Camille

      That’s maybe because even Rufus stands waaay out of the way of The Donald ——— now apparently the latest to co-opt the “Vincerò” song:



  • Porgy Amor

    There is also a Pearl Fishers duet with Wainwright and David Byrne that has been shared here before.

    Wainwright does know opera, and not just the obvious things. He’s often spotted at the Met, and once or twice the camera has lingered on him and a partner during those pre-performance crowd shots at the Met HDs. His early song “Damn Ladies,” about sympathy for operatic heroines, drops most of the expected names but also Ká?a Kabanová.

    • Camille

      I used to have that “Damned Ladies” and found him quite touching — particularly in the Katya part where he warned her that her mother-in-law was a bitch. Good advice.

      Look, a lot better that a pop singer say and do something about “liking” opera, than not.

      • Porgy Amor

        A cover version.

  • gustave of montreal

    The lady Sarah Fox has a beautiful voice. What’s she doing with that ham Wainwright.

    • armerjacquino

      Enjoying herself, if her twitter is anything to go by.

  • la vociaccia

    Ignored Cieca’s title, saw “Mascagni” and “duet” and am now supremely depressed that it isn’t “Tu qui Santuzza.”