From the July 18 until July 23 Rufus Wainwright is taking over the Royal Opera House. Although Elton John and Björk have given concerts there already, this ‘residency' is something different; a celebration of his work so far. It isn't a week of repeated concerts but a mini festival. On July 18 and 22 there's his Rufus Does Judy!, on July 19 a concert with his sister Martha, July 21 sees him with his father Loudon Wainwright III, and on the 23rd there will be a concert version of his opera Prima Donna, followed by a quick run through of his ‘greatest hits' with the Britten Sinfonia. The title for this celebration is “Velvet, Glamour and Guilt”. The Independent asked why:
Everybody is so guilty,” Rufus Wainwright says suddenly and provocatively, while explaining his choice of the words Velvet, Glamour and Guilt, to mark his five -night residency at the Royal Opera House next week. “Everybody feels so guilty that they can't be me,” he continues indulgently, before dissolving into impish laughter…
… Since his opera Prima Donna premiered at the Manchester festival in 2009 (initially cancelled by New York's Metropolitan after organisers took fright at Wainwright writing his libretto in French with no English translation), he reveals there have been offers to write another. “If you're going to be a bona fide opera composer you have to really drown yourself in the form and go crazy. I would say I am now waist-high and going deeper. You can't just fiddle, you have to go for it,” says Wainwright.
In a 2005 interview with The New York Times he stated,
“Opera saved my life twice”. The first time was when he was 14 and felt isolated and reckless. He picked up an older man in London. “I got in over my head,” he said, describing the resulting encounter as “essentially rape.” In the months and years that followed, opera helped him recover from this trauma. Alone in his dormitory room at the Millbrook School in upstate New York, he would dance naked to the voluptuous strains of the “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Strauss's “Salome” and blast Verdi and Wagner into the quad, where his uncomprehending classmates played lacrosse. During this period, he was secretly convinced that the sexual incident had left him H.I.V. positive. (It had not.) “With opera I could relax and relate to that kind of despair and fear,” he said, yet “regain some innocence.”
And the second time? That came later after he'd released his first album in 1998 and was experiencing his first taste of success.
He went to a production of Strauss's “Elektra” at the Met, completely drugged, Mr. Wainwright said, and the performance was “amazing.” Finally admitting that he was abusing drugs and alcohol, he entered Hazelden, the addiction treatment center in Minnesota.
After completing a month of therapy, he returned to the Met to see the same production of “Elektra.” To his delight, the performance was just as amazing. “It proved to me that when music is potent, it doesn't matter what state you are in, it will uplift you,” he said. For a second time, opera had steadied his life.
Certainly the title he has chosen for his Covent Garden week, and the title of his opera, Prima Donna, reveal his camp side, but then it is enough to view his wardrobe to understand his flair for theatricality.
The brightly-coloured checked jackets, fitted waistcoats and sweeping frock coats, now trademarks and a fundamental part of his theatrical routine – says The Independent. He offers, “I am gay, so it is a matter of life and death. It is genetically ingrained in my survival mechanisms so I seem to have been bitten by the bug. I have made some good decisions and bad ones, but I just want my biography to be full of weird pictures.”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.