Rufus Wainwright’s debut opera opens in Toronto, earns comparison to “Loblaws grocery bag”

Rufus Wainwright’s debut opera opens in Toronto, earns comparison to “Loblaws grocery bag”

(Image: Rubenstein/Martyna Borkowski) 

Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna made its North American debut last night as part of Luminato, and critics aren’t exactly tossing roses. The Star condemns the Canadian singer-songwriter’s first opera as “a dramatic wreck,” tossing out cattily that “you can’t get a Louis Vuitton clutch from a Loblaws grocery bag”; the Globe is more charitable. Reviews from over the pond (it premiered in Manchester last summer and arrived in London this past April) were equally mixed, with the Guardian’s Andrew Clements grumbling:

For interminable episodic stretches it seemed as if Prima Donna would take over in my personal pantheon as the worst new opera I’ve ever seen… the banality of what is sung is sometimes breathtaking.

Having caught the premiere, we think the reviewers themselves might be getting a bit too melodramatic. The show is definitely overblown (as the London Times points out, “The sight of Régine dementedly ripping flowers to bits is a little too close to something one might find in an old Annie Lennox video”), and some truly silly dialogue provoked tittering from the audience—but there are several striking musical moments, and it’s meant as an homage to the genre at its most romantic. If too flawed to be considered a masterpiece, it seems unfair to brand Prima Donna a “wreck.”

Prima Donna: This is a parody, right? [Toronto Star]
Prima Donna an effective portrait of opera in its prime [The Globe and Mail]