On what I love about Rufus Wainwright & why you should pledge for his Opera

April 11, 2014

Despite initially going to London last weekend for a reason entirely other than Rufus Wainwright, the weekend became filled with Rufus, even moreso than anticipated.  I feel very lucky and privileged.  I feel as though given this I want to make a post to express my love for Rufus and that I should make a post to say, if you love music and indeed culture of any kind, have a little look and if you can a little pledge for Rufus to record his Opera, Prima Donna, here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/primadonna.  Help make it such that the world we live in today is not just a world of disposable art, but support something envisioned on a grand scale, intended to last.

So, on 6th April, Rufus performed at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and I must say that at least certain songs were to me the most expressive I have heard Rufus live (although admittedly I may feel this since this concert is so recent in my memory!)  My personal highlight of the evening was Dinner at Eight which was the most moving I have heard it and of course Candles was another highlight.  As a performer Rufus was also in fine form: it never fails to amuse me how Rufus can go from emotional number, to silly, to something more barbed or how he can be one second singing the most heartfelt song, seeming lost in it and certainly carrying me away somewhere and the second he’s finished he’ll crack a joke or he’s back in the fun of the show.  He’s a delight on stage.  Then, at the end of the show, through Pledge Music, I joined other folk and got to stand there nervously and ecstatically during Rufus’ encore, certainly an experience and memory to treasure.

But anyway, this post isn’t to review the show, which if you wanted people have done, but to talk of what I love most about Rufus which is what he can convey, expressively.  This, of course is not the only thing Rufus is about.  Rufus’ music ranges hugely: there are swathes of things he does and even his style runs the gamut, but I’d be here forever to talk of all that and I am certain other people know far more about the entirety of Rufus’ work than I do, so I am talking about my personal favourite aspect of Rufus’ music.  I am sure others like a wide range of things most.

A tiny bit of background: I’ve loved Rufus since I obtained Poses back in those years where you really get into current music (or at least the years when I did) but in fact I somehow never saw him live (you know how life is: sometimes for whatever reason things like this just don’t happen.)  It’s my experience that you usually fall deeper in love with an artist or band, if they are good upon seeing them live.

Anyway, my first experience of anything live in relation to Rufus was not so long ago – it was, aptly given this campaign – the premiere of Prima Donna in Manchester.  Since then I’ve seen Rufus with his Dad at the Opera House in London and I’ve seen him in Liverpool, in Manchester and back in London again now.  And I have to say, my favourite Rufus is unequivocally Rufus just on his own with a piano. As an example, at the Opera House, Rufus had a divine pianist who played beautifully, but for me, while others may make beautiful accompanists no-one can play Rufus’ songs with the expression Rufus can himself.

I am sure many people would agree were I to call Rufus’ voice mellifluous (and maybe a few may think completely otherwise, but no matter!) but for me, the moments when Rufus Wainwright is transportive and where his playing, live, overcomes me, makes me close my eyes and carries me some other place entirely occur most often when there’s that combination of Rufus’ voice and piano playing together.  They are so enmeshed and every single nuance is imbued with the music’s feeling.  And so, I put it out there, that I love Rufus’ piano playing and while other arrangements may be beautiful, fun or up the complexity, Rufus at the piano is what hits me the hardest because when he is playing live I feel every note.  To try to get at it another way, when you play an instrument, sometimes, for a nanosecond, you hit that resonant spot where the music and the feeling become one.  In his most expressive material, Rufus remains in that spot the whole time.  Am I talking in riddles now?  I hope I make sense to someone!  *blushes*

I talk about this now in order to try to relate it to Opera.  I confess right away that I know nothing about Opera.  As a child I did for many years love classical music and not until my teens did I get into any other kind of music (as can be attested to by the embarrassing background of this wordpress: a thing that I found in I think my first diary – I remember sitting on my bed writing it with my tiny 1 octave keyboard as I didn’t have a piano then in the summer holidays, probably towards the end of primary school), but Opera is not a thing that I ever even listened to let alone had an appreciation of or knew anything about, and I still don’t.  However what I do know in Opera is that it is at its extreme about conveying a story and the emotion of a story… and conveying this via its music.  For although Operas have words and performers to convey the story, the nature of Opera is such that Operas can be in foreign languages, and even if they are not, the words can be hard to understand and in any case I think you need to be able to truly feel the emotion through the music itself as well as being told it via the libretto.

Going back, this, for me is the strongest aspect of Rufus Wainwright’s own music.  He comes from a family who write startlingly confessional songs (oh that there were more of such songs!) but for me where Rufus really stands out is in how when he plays and sings his songs, the emotion is conveyed so strongly that you feel the song whether you yet hear the words or not.*  This is what you need in Opera and I feel is an exciting notion to think about not just in terms of how wonderful it will be to record this Opera, but in imagining future Operatic work by Rufus.

So, pledge!  http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/primadonna

And unless you’re a proper Rufus-fan I advise you to stop reading here!

* I hope this makes sense.  I will say that I am first and foremost a music person so someone could sing Humpty Dumpty and if they put enough emotion into it and were genuine enough with it it could move me, so you know perhaps I am unable to be objective?!



On being a part of the “Hallelujah Chorus”: (teehee, Oh Rufus.  I reckon Handel would have approved, though!) and the weekend…

I feel like I should add a little here to talk about my own experience and encourage anyone who may be thinking whether to pledge to sing at a concert in lands afar to do it!  I feel almost unbelievably fortunate to have experienced the weekend I just did.  Not only did I get to watch a wonderful show in a beautiful theatre with Rufus and his lovely sister Lucy who I had heard live once before supporting Loudon in Liverpool (I love the purity of her voice and how she engages with the audience), but I got to “sing” (haha!) on stage with Rufus too.  I am not sure precisely what to say.. What can I even remember?  Looking back at videos of the night now, while I recall every detail of the concert up until that point, I don’t think I took in half the things Rufus said while we were on stage, but what I do know is that Rufus made us feel really welcome.  I hope that our presence wasn’t too annoying to the rest of the audience (but I think we were quiet enough Rufus was still the complete focus :)!) but it made what had already felt like a surprisingly intimate evening even more sweet and special and Rufus was so generous with us.  I just felt lucky to be there, a few feet from Rufus playing his encores.  It was funny and silly and as I say, just really rather sweet.

I am sure I am not alone when I say I wasn’t sure whether to do this: I was going to the concert alone and I thought: will I really get up on stage?  When I did pledge, despite it being quite a lot of money for me I still was unsure whether I’d do it on the night but thought at least I’d given myself the opportunity and had pledged towards the cause.  When there though, I had to do it as when will you ever get such a chance again?!  To add, my own work as a music therapist does mean I spend most of my time singing silliness such as “Geronimo is playing the cymbal: CRASH!!!” or singing along to the sounds of glissandi or indeed random sounds without a thought (yes, I do frequently feel like Phoebe form Friends ;)!) but I was still very uncertain!  Anyway, they’re just a few of my crazy thoughts, but despite them all, I can say that barring a flutter of “will I really do this?!” as Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk came to its close (this was when we had to move) it wasn’t scary for even a second.  Rufus made it a sweet, warm experience and thanks be to him for this.  If you get the opportunity you should take it and do this too!  I can say it’s well worth it.  I still feel the joy from it now, days later!

To end, thanks to the kindness of several folk, the following day I was lucky enough to (just about!!) get to see Rufus record Mastertapes for BBC radio 4 which was mostly focussed on Want One and will air on the radio and BBC red button in November.  I spent the entire two hours smiling: it was a wonderful time and I couldn’t believe I was there and had actually gotten in to witness it.  I got in as a reserve at the last minute but was shown to a seat on the end of the second row.  The entire thing was far to good to be true!  And yet I don’t think I merely dreamed it.  In any case, it was two hours of insightful interview, interspersed with Rufus playing songs… which all seemed all the more magical after all the talking.  I mean the interview was fascinating, but… how can I describe it?  It’s like that’s all just normal chatting and then there is the music and it’s transportive and suddenly all the more astonishing in comparison to not-music.  Wow, I should be an author, eh – the way I have with words, haha.

I must admit, though charming as always, it did feel that this was more like work compared to the joy I felt from Rufus on stage the night before (not that I’d presume to know Rufus’ feelings about anything!  Maybe his joy perfuming at Drury Lane was all an act for us, I don’t know, but if it was, it worked!!) but it was a wonderful experience for me.

And to end, our wonderful.. but I doubt many would label shy and retiring Rufus made me feel a little better about being me.  I’ll self indulgently explain.  Obviously Rufus played certain songs at the BBC session, but the interviewer (sorry I don’t know your name) did several times try to get Rufus to spontaneously play some other song.  I mean, Rufus had obviously played a long set at his concert the night before and was going on to play at an event for Jean Paul Gaultier later that day, so it could be he just wanted to save himself, and you could tell his voice was a little tired – of course after the concert the night before, but Rufus said just a throwaway remark that he’s actually not that amazing a pianist or guitarist and can’t just play any song right there and then to performance level.  Of course, we know he is a great pianist and I don’t presume to know whether he said this genuinely or as he didn’t really want to play any other songs, but no matter – it made me feel better.  As, as I have spoken of, I adore Rufus’ piano playing: not just for its content, but most of all for its expression.  I listen to some classical pianists, and even with virtuosos, there are those who, for me I really feel and others who may be technically great but do nothing for me.  In any case, in context, I love Rufus’ piano playing and I work in a job where I play instruments all the time but I would never in a squillion years consider myself a musician because, bluntly, I am really not very good at playing any instrument at all.  And I improvise in my work, but if (as occasionally happens) someone might ask me to play “Song X” it just isn’t a thing I could do whatsoever!  And while I only think about the other person while working, if I do or am made to reflect, often I feel inferior, a fraud, not good enough to exist let alone to do anything at all.  And Rufus’ words and the way I feel about his playing, made me feel, oddly more secure and like it is OK to be me.  Is that crazy?  I’m not sure I explained it well and I’m sure you don’t care, but there it is.  I felt it and it’s a thing to be thankful for so here I am saying it.

I also think that maybe that’s a wonderful thing about Rufus: there are many reasons people could love him, but as an artist he doesn’t fit into any sort of category or box.  His music doesn’t really fit into a specific genre I can think of.  I am sure that for Rufus himself this has its positives and negatives, but for the world and art in general I think it’s a great thing: Rufus Wainwright is just Rufus and on top of a weekend of truly glorious music I felt this and through it Rufus made me feel that maybe it’s OK just to be me.

Well, as I say, pledge for Rufus: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/primadonna

And for more inspiration to sing with Rufus, here we are, with thanks to Mike Watts (https://twitter.com/DrFizzy):



I’m the short one in the light blue dress and red glasses.  I’m mostly behind people, but the girl in the red sparkly dress pulled me to the front half way through Poses (thank you so much to you!)  Maybe my expression tells what Rufus’ music is to me?



4 Responses to “On what I love about Rufus Wainwright & why you should pledge for his Opera”

  1. Hilary Zuccarini said

    My goodness, you really can write and I’m sure Rufus would appreciate it. I feel a little envious (not in a bad way:)) that you can express your feelings about Rufus so well. I agree with everything. It must have been wonderful and the fact thatyou also saw ‘Mastertapes’. You mentioned that ‘Mastertapes’ seemed more like work for Rufus. I remember reading that his mother said that the ‘public Rufus’ was all an act, put on for his public. One concert I attended with a friend last year, when we met him at the stage door, kind of confirmed that. We were both surprised at how quiet and reserved he seemed to be. The fact that he was reticent about spontaneously singing/playing on the ‘Mastertapes’ isn’t surprising to me, although I didn’t get it at the time, when he was rehearsing with Keane for a guest spot atna Keane concert, he said ‘I can’t just wing it’ – he didn’t want to play keyboard. I thought, how can he say that when he plays the piano so wonderfully! I also think his piano playing is just as important as singing. I’d love to experience it on Matinee Idol and Rebel Prince. You did explain it very well and we do care. :):):)

    • wherewordsend said

      Thanks so much for commenting and indeed for bothering to read my silly rambles at all! It was indeed all so wonderful and I still can’t believe how lucky I was!

      It’s really interesting to hear Rufus’ Mother’s comment and your experiences. I suppose it’s surprising since on stage we all see Rufus the exuberant, audacious performer and wonderful pianist, but we must remember that everyone has their insecurities and we must never presume to know the all of even those close to us, let alone those we only see on a stage! I guess though, you only have to look to Rufus’ music to know there is obviously more to him than that aspect. But indeed, I suppose because I love how Rufus plays piano so much, it had never occurred to me that it took work for him, that he couldn’t just wing it or that he might have to build up the repertoire he’d be playing for each particular tour. I’m glad you agree regarding the value and emotion of Rufus’ piano playing too. 🙂 I wasn’t sure I was explaining what I meant quite right: words only go so far!

      Talking of other songs, I was actually incredibly lucky too – last summer Rufus played a particularly wonderful set in Liverpool including many wonderful songs (Memphis Skyline and A Woman’s Face being but two I loved) where I heard Matinee Idol at the piano… and I was very happy that he played Rebel Prince there as well, though of course on guitar – I’d love to hear a piano arrangement of that though, I agree!

      The song I really would love to hear live (I hope this doesn’t sound odd!) though is In a Graveyard. Poses was the first Rufus album I owned and In a Graveyard my favourite song on it. Oh how I’d love to hear it live. Maybe one day?

      Thanks so much for your comment once again and I hope your own next Rufus live experience shan’t be too far away? 🙂

  2. I wish I could have been in the London choir so much! I live in the UK but at the time I was in Italy to catch one of the Italian dates of his tour.
    About Rufus in general, words do really end when I try to talk about him. Usually they just come out in the form of the smile and little screams of a 7 year old in front of her Christmas presents.
    I will be at his gig in Coventry next week to satisfy my addiction 🙂

    • wherewordsend said

      I hope you have an amazing time at the Coventry gig! I am sure it will be very special. 🙂

      And on music in general, I like (and agree with) the Victor Hugo quote:

      “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

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