Rufus Wainwright and the Greatest Gay Love Story Ever Told in Opera

Opening night ended, how could it be otherwise, with applause lasting over eight minutes, and Rufus Wainwright waving under a beautiful manila shawl and fantastic red shoes from an electrifying Wizard of Oz . Behind were three hours of an opera that was musically beautiful at times, savage at others, and a staging dominated by the world of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. A massive use, more than three hundred projected photographs of the American, too illustrative at times, but which have succeeded in uniting ancient Rome with a current gay sensibility, free, beautiful and plural.

Rufus Wainwright is touched by the waste, the waste of talent, charm and love given and received. For more than twenty years, he has proven his talent with dazzling albums like Want one, Poses or your last job Not following the rules. Additionally, Wainwright is wanted in Spain. Critics and audiences follow him and love this intimate air with which he is able to sing his own songs without pretension and with a clear melodic flair, or wonderful versions of the Beatles or his beloved Judy Garland. And he lets himself be loved. A regular at the Botanist Nights in Madrid, a regular in Barcelona, ​​he gave a concert in April at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona. Wainwright keeps wasting good manners, humor and good manners.

Around Wainwright gravitates this great media mixer around his figure and his great friendships, his frequentations and other prosodies: friend of Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Chrissie Hynde… In addition, he is the father of a daughter of Lorca’s mother, Leonard Cohen’s daughter… The list of these types of Hollywood cuché and divisme stories is endless and perhaps not very relevant. The most important thing is that for each project he can surround himself with the best people. And he did it for the second opera of his career, Hadrian, which was premiered in 2018 in Toronto with a staging in the style, and which arrived at the Teatro Real in a semi-staged concert version, a format that far from diminishing the proposal, modernizes it and gives it new readings. The libretto is by Daniel Maclvor, one of the most renowned authors, and features one of the world’s greatest baritones, Thomas Hampson, a singer who also accompanies the production on its European tour.

nick cave lovers

Hampson’s rendition of Adriano is of distinct vocal and interpretive quality. Wainwright’s compositional and musical manner is capable of transforming this gentleman of opera and chamber music into a sometimes amorous Nick Cave. This is perhaps one of the most remarkable virtues of the Canadian: bringing opera closer to the modern sensibility of the spectator and showing that this art, often valued as 19th century, is not or should not be. ‘be. Another of those magical moments was Vanesa Goikoetxea’s aria as Adriano’s wife, a song about a woman they don’t love, forgotten by Adriano’s new love, young Antinous. The tune sometimes sounded like a great 1950s blues song with elegant pop overtones. The audience spontaneously applauded the singer at this moment.

“Doing an opera on Hadrian was the first idea I had when I thought of doing one, when I read Margerite Yourcenar’s book, which influenced me deeply,” Wainwright said during a a press conference before the premiere. But the opera has nothing to do, not even remotely, with the book that the Belgian wrote in the fifties of the last century, it does not delve into the kaleidoscopic and deep figure that it depicts of the emperor Roman and his time. In Hadrian, the love story between the emperor and the young Antinous prevails. Wainwright wanted to tell a great gay love story and he doesn’t care about the historical consistency of the character or the era. “One of the things I love about opera is that there’s a fantastic tradition of building on historical figures and then being able to build the story that you really want and that serves you in as a creator”, he explained, in this sense.

Mappelthorpe and the countercultural drift

The opera, divided into four acts, reinvents a story of which, on the other hand, we know little. Hadrian decided to make him a deity after drowning in the Nile, an act that has traditionally been attributed to a sacrifice by the young man in order to save the emperor from a bad omen of death. Wainwright instead weaves a love story delivered beneath the palace intrigue in which Antinous is assassinated by his army commander, Turbo. The reason is that Antinous, who has a great influence on the emperor, defends peace with Judea and this can weigh down the military ambitions of the military.

The opera therefore chooses a main plot, which is the love story between the emperor and the young Greek. And a secondary one, the end of an empire threatened by Jewish monotheism and, as we say on stage, Nazarene. Although the Roman Empire would convert to Christianity two hundred years later with Constantine I, and the real enemy in the following century would be the barbarians who were not monotheistic at all, Wainwright’s interest seems to bring this time closer to ours in order to oppose the universe of gay, free and plural love to our world, “a world that becomes more conservative and terrible every day”, as the artist said in front of the media.

There, the hodgepodge becomes Manichean. we talk about the state, the images of the American flag are superimposed when war is called on stage, or when at the end of the opera “one God” is sung in chorus (the Roman world fights against monotheistic religions ) and it is superimposed the huge image of the American dollar bill in which, on the figure of George Washington, the expression “in God we trust” says. And even a veiled accusation is made comparing the Roman Empire’s war with Judea to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The ideological cocoa is certainly capital and the spectator no longer knows if the opera defends the sentence of Gustave Flaubert “when the gods no longer existed and Christ had not yet appeared, there was a unique moment, by Cicero to Marcus Aurelius, in which he was only the man”, or else we are in a counter-cultural act against American warlike and imperialist policy.

Mapplethorpe’s Mighty Charge

But beyond the ideological inconsistencies, the work has, in addition to the good musical moments, an editing and a format which, although imperfect, give play and flight to the proposal. The main one is the inclusion of the universe of Mapplethorpe’s photographs. Remove some overly illustrative moments—the text is about a dog, the image of a dog appears, the scene takes place on the Nile and some images of boats are projected—and other blushing ones—like the inclusion of Schwarzenegger or Richard Gere as the new Adonis of the reigning empire—little by little the powerful universe of the American photographer reigns on the scene. The classic character of his photographs, both in terms of composition and light, corresponds to the proposal. The metaphorical and carnal power of images of human bodies and flowers prevails. When the third act arrives where Hadrian and Antinous lie down, the selection of images rises in carnality and cheerful aesthetics to the highest degree. And throughout the show, when we talk about these two figures of classical Rome, we can see contemporary photographs where a thousand ways of experiencing homosexuality are represented, bikers, fetishists, hustlers, threesomes with women… All this universe makes the devoted love of these two Romans does not move away in time and a common thread emerges between the two eras, a thread woven from a conception of free and elevated love.

The semi-cut format, with the singers restrained facing the audience, allowing themselves only brief dramatic brushstrokes, allowed the viewer to let Mapplethorpe’s images, music and their own imagination flow through. Only certain imbalances weighed on the evening. In the first, each act was presented by a text projected in English, without being translated on the screens. Moreover, the texts went by so quickly that even a seasoned Eaton student would not have had time to read them. This coupled with a horrible translation that came to translate the word “disturbs” (mind) by rote in the most important tune of the work raise suspicion that the work was not what was requested. The opera will arrive on the 29th of this month at the Peralada Festival.

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