Friday, December 15, 2006

Does Your Mother Know You're Out, Rufus Wainwright?

I went to the Met the other evening to see Rigoletto (thank you fabulous neighbors). I had never seen that opera, but on the walk over to Lincoln Center I remembered the classic Odd Couple episode when Richard Fredericks guest stars as a friend of Oscar’s. He has agreed to star in a little opera that Felix is producing, when he gets hurt during a softball game with Oscar. “You broke my Rigoletto,” Felix wails.

I like pop culture introductions to classical music. It’s a low-barrier entry way for many people to see what's beyond. I’m also a fan of high-low art crossovers.

An embodiment of that exchange is the singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. The next evening Steed and I went to The Wainwright Family & Friends Christmas Show at Carnegie Hall. Steed was the Rufus fan first, and bought me Want One when we went to see Rufus at the Beacon last year.

The Christmas Show is unique because it included his sisters Martha and Lily and Aunt Sloan, and guests Jimmy Fallon, Teddy Thompson, Laurie Anderson, and Lou Reed.

Rufus is still the centerpiece of the show—his chatter, his faux ‘where are the lyrics’ ‘is this mike on’ confusion is all part of the performing persona. Part jester, part prima donna, he's charming because he knows just how far to push it and when to pull back.

How can you describe the Rufus voice? It is very distinct. It’s a clear, pointed sound, with a nasal but not unappealing undertone. He swells note to note in well controlled verbal scoops. His sound has a sexiness that pretty much defies gender categories.

He sang “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” channeling Rosemary Clooney. If he had been in a black strapless dress, it would have seemed perfectly natural. His "Cantique de Noel," with a beautiful piano accompaniment, was elegant and very moving.

There were other great numbers: Martha and Jimmy Fallon singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”; Laurie Anderson droning a hurdy-gurdy to all verses of “O Come All Ye Faithful” which she graced with the O Superman inflection; and Sloan singing a knockout, uplifting, joyous rendition of Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas”

And then there was Lou.

He comes out wearing a bright yellow, wild jacket. Must be his idea of festive. He sings "White Christmas" with Rufus. And then a "Silent Night" that was hallowed, in its way. His driving rock beat under a jagged—jarring semi shout of "Silent Night." And yet a seeming respect for the words—all 3 verses. “Son of God, Love’s pure light. Radiant beams from they holy face; with the dawn of redeeming Grace. Jesus Lord at thy birth. Jesus Lord at they birth.” All with.----The Reed rhyyyyth-mnic----phrasing.That----we know---and love. (He is our aural e. e. cummings)

In a recent interview Rufus said that in the new year he is headed to the Alps to work on his next commissioned piece: An opera. Imagine that. “Caro nome che il mio cor/festi primo palpitar; le delizie dell’ amor/mi di sempre rammentar!”