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April 2, 2009

Rufus Wainwright opera headed to UK, Canada

As you have probably heard, Rufus Wainwright, the singer-songwriter with the distinctively moody voice, has written his first opera. It was originally commissioned by the Met, no less. But that intriguing association fell apart early on, ostensibly because the composer insisted on writing the work in French, and the Met wanted it to be in English. The two-acter, titled Prima Donna, will be premiered instead at the Manchester International Festival in England in July. A Toronto performance is set for next year.

The opera tells the tale of Regine Saint Laurent (you've got to love the name), a revered soprano who returns to the stage after a six-year absence.

Last week, members of the press were invited to what was called "a sneak peak" of Prima Donna in New York, consisting of material recorded at the first rehearsal. Astonishingly enough, I was not on the invitation list (even after I went to the grand effort of covering his Carnegie Hall tribute to Judy Garland a few years ago), so I can't provide any first-hand info about that little preview. But I've had a report from a friend of a friend who had friends who heard some of the opera way back before the Met decided to pass on it. That's good enough, isn't it, for today's cyber-standards?

For what it's worth, here's that anonymous report:

I know two people who were in the room for the Met's first read-through of Mr. Wainwright's opera. It was so embarrassingly bad that everyone just looked at their feet. Both parties (the Met & Wainwright) were lucky enough to be able to blame the Met's backout on an issue as neutral as language. Face-saving all around.

Ouch. Of course, initial impressions could be very deceiving. It's going to be very interesting to see how this thing turns out.


Posted by Tim Smith at 5:20 PM | | Comments (1)


My boyfriend and I just heard him in Philadelphia doing pop music. He was great.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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