Hallelujah! Rufus Wainwright solos at Davies Symphony Hall Sunday, June 9, 2013
Whether it’s folk, pop, opera, languid ballads like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” or acting on the big screen—no matter what he’s up to—vocalist and songwriter Rufus Wainwright remains one of the most unique and fascinating performing artists around. Luminous, he seems to radiate intoxicating otherworldliness, coupled with sadness and loneliness that make it almost impossible to take one’s eyes off of him when he’s performing. And that voice! It ranges from the depths of bass to soaring tenor heights. Affectionately referred to by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet” and praised by The New York Times for his “genuine originality,” Grammy nominee Wainwright, 39, has established himself as one of the greats of his generation. Wainwright performs solo and will accompany himself on the piano and guitar, Sunday, June 9, 2013 at Davies Symphony Hall.
A frequent performer in Bay Area venues including Davies Symphony Hall throughout his career, Wainwright performed with the SF Symphony in 2010 under conductor Michael Francis, premiering Five Shakespeare Sonnets, Wainwright’s own large scale orchestrations of five of the eleven songs he composed for a theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets with director Robert Wilson. If Sunday’s performance takes anything from his last appearance at Davies, it will be Wainwright’s genius with messing with form to create songs that bear his own stamp. Following several significant and dramatic events in his life—the birth of his daughter, Viva, who was conceived with childhood friend Lorca Cohen, the daughter of Leonard Cohen; the death of his mother, Canadian folk-singer Kate McGarrigle; and his engagement (and subsequent marriage) to partner Jorn Weisbrodt—his seventh studio album, Out of the Game, was released in 2012 with the input of a new collaborator, celebrated British producer and DJ, Mark Ronson. It’s been hailed as his “pop recording” but it’s far from reductive. He plays guitar and produces songs that allude to 1950s rock, light 1970s funk, Southern California folk-pop and music hall by way of the Beatles. “But even in his closest approach to current pop — “Bitter Tears,” with synthesizer chords and a thumping Euro dance beat — Mr. Wainwright is still stubbornly himself.” (Jon Pareles, New York Times 5.10.2012)
OPERA, stubbornly: Wainwright’s life is the stuff of opera—child of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, he was raised in an atmosphere where the creative juices and drama flowed freely. His first opera, Prima Donna, was quite an undertaking for someone with no formal music education—it premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2009 and had its North American debut in Toronto at the Luminato Festival in 2010. In 2008, Wainwright made the news when the language of the libretto got him in a dispute with its would-be commissioners— the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theatre. Wainwright wanted the opera to be in French but the sponsors insisted that a new opera should be in English as their respective creative teams all were native English speakers and the accompanying creative workshops would all be conducted in English. They also proposed a very late—2014—production date. Wainwright so said, “no thank you” and then promptly moved on, achieving his vision.
Prima Donna, written in French with English subtitles (and co-written by Bernadette Colomine), follows an acclaimed, but forgotten soprano, Regine Saint Laurent, who is preparing a return to the stage in the role she was known for, “Alienor d’Aquitaine.” Convinced her voice is forever gone, Regine has high anxiety about reprising the role. In her quasi-deranged state, she latches on to a young journalist who is all too ready to lavish attention on her. The New York Times said, “There are inspired touches and disarmingly beautiful passages in this mysterious, stylistically eclectic work in Rufus Wainwright’s first opera…” The London Times declared, “…the Canadian singer-songwriter hasn’t just written an opera. He’s written a love song to opera, soaked in the perennial operatic themes of loss, betrayal, delusion and nostalgia, and saturated in the musical styles of opera’s golden age.” Excerpts have been performed with the Oregon Symphony for The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival and at the Royal Opera House in London. The work received a 2011 Dora Award for Outstanding New Musical/Opera and made its U.S. debut in 2012 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House.
Director George Scott also made a fascinating documentary “Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna” (2009, 60 min), which airs periodically on the Sundance Channel and delves into Wainwright’s forays with opera long before his first formal opera, Prima Donna was conceived.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: “Prima Donna” documentary trailer
COMMEMORATIVE FILM: Australian actress and documentary filmmaker Lian Lunson’s Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle (2012, 107 min) produced a lush and intimately shot hybrid documentary/concert film on Wainwright’s mother, Canadian folk legend, Kate McGarrigle, who passed in January 2010 of Clear-cell sarcoma. The film screened at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival in May 2013 and weaves many treasured clips of Wainwright performing as a child, as a young adult and with his sister, Martha Wainwright into the tribute. The May 2011 concert, the subject of Lunson’s film, was hosted by Rufus and Martha Wainwright in honor of their late mother at New York City’s Town Hall Theatre. It features performances of McGarrigle songs both famous (e.g. “Heart Like A Wheel”) and obscure (e.g. “I Am A Diamond”). Accompanying the Wainwright siblings in this performance are such friends and admirers as Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Fallon, Norah Jones, and Michael Ondaatje. Rufus and Martha sing most of the songs and speak in several pre-taped vignettes interspersed between songs. Their voices resonate with sadness and gratitude in this mesmerizing portrait of their mother.
Wainwright has also acted in Academy Award-winning director Deny Arcand’s film, L’Age des Tenebres (2007), the Merchan-Ivory film Heights (2005), and the major blockbuster The Aviator (2004), directed by Martin Scorsese.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT performs Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (Live at The Fillmore)
Pre- and post-show Events—Come early, relax, and treat yourself at the Tier with a Twist on the Second Tier. A fresh way to take in a concert this summer, the Tier with a Twist offers food and drinks in the updated Second Tier bar. The added bonus? Take your beverage to your seat and use the free wifi! It’s the Second Tier—with a twist.
Tickets and information: “An Evening with Rufus Wainright” is Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 8 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall. Tickets: $22-88. For tickets and information, visit www.sfsymphony.org or phone at (415) 864-6000.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)
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