Making an Effort

To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also. – Igor Stravinsky

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1st March – Rufus Wainwright ‘Prima Donna’

Orchestra: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Joana Carneiro

Sopranos: Wang Xi, Sarah Fox

Tenor: Antonio Figeuroa

Rufus Wainwright

This was a full house with  people clamouring to see Rufus Wainwright. I had not heard many of Wainwright’s songs before, but was obviously familiar with ‘Hallelujah’ from Shrek. I had read up about this concert that it would be an opera that Wainwright has written, so I was prepared that it would be more operatic than his usual songs.

Wainright came on stage and said his ‘Thank you’s which was a little comical as he was reading out Chinese names, not quite sure of the pronunciation, but we were all amused by the fact that there was someone called Sherlock and an Elvis on his list – classic Hong Kong odd choice of names. He introduced the concert and told us there would be excerpts from the opera that he has written, which also showed paintings and a film on the screens. Then he reminded us to stay for the second half which was when he would be singing songs.

As the concert began, I started to wonder about my choice of seat. I knew at times, especially when Wang Xi was singing, that I really couldn’t hear her very well. This was where I started to question my choice of seat and who the opera singers were. In the end, I knew it came down to the fact that the sound was not supervised well, allowing the orchestra to drown out the singers.

Despite the sound problems, the orchestra played well, although I was surprised at Carneiro’s style being consistently forceful. The imagery on the screen really did not appeal to me. I found it distracting, unappealing and to be quite honest, tacky. I would have just appreciated to be able to focus on the singers and orchestra. (I had been to a concert where there was music and videos, but it was cohesive. See Tan Dun’s ‘Nu Shu’ concert)

For the second half of the concert, a piano was brought out and as I was sitting in the balcony above the piano, we were given seats over to the left, so we would be able to get a better view (although the back of the performer’s heads wouldn’t be what I’d consider a ‘better view’!). Rufus Wainwright came on stage and sang some songs at the piano, and others at the microphone at the front of the stage, occasionally with Sarah Fox. These were mostly hits such as ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate milk’. Some songs were with orchestral accompaniment whereas others were just with Wainwright at the piano. Funnily enough, the chair that had been on stage during the first half of the concert (when it wasn’t needed) had been removed. Several times when the conductor wasn’t conducting, she no longer had a seat to sit on and had to perch on the conductor’s podium. For his encore, Wainwright did bring back all three opera singers back to the stage and sang with them while at the piano. This did reassure me that the singers were of a decent calibre, with their voices projecting nicely. This was a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ which most people are familiar with from the movie ‘Shrek’.

Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah (Live at The Fillmore)