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Il Divo

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With father Loudon Wainwright III in 1996.  

“I think humility is important,” he says. “But I don’t think it is a necessity. I guess I’m a little more of an Ayn Rand person. In the end, I’ll be judged only by my work.”

The new staging for the opera didn’t do much better with the critics. A new reviewer from the Independent declared, “This rather camp confection … for the most part, is distressingly derivative”; while the Telegraph praised the orchestration as “extravagantly rich and brightly coloured,” it derided the story as “hopelessly camp and melodramatic,” warning that “ironic detachment and self-criticism will be required if he is to develop as an opera composer.”

The afternoon Wainwright performs his new album for the first time in full plumage, it’s in a small London space at Sadler’s Wells.

The lights go dark. A floor light shoots diagonally from upstage right to the black Steinway. In the gloom, Wainwright walks along the trail of light in slow, stylized, Robert Wilson–esque steps, dragging the seventeen-foot train behind him, then sits carefully at the piano. The effect is striking, eerie, moving, and a bit silly. A massive screen behind him plays a mesmerizing video by the Scottish artist Douglas Gordon: various iterations of Wainwright’s thickly painted, green eye slowly opening and closing.

As at the Rose Bar show, there are some clunkers in the first few songs, accompanied by Wainwright’s low, angry groans and mock long-suffering facial expressions. But by the sonnets, he’s really hit his stride, holding the room in thrall to his tenor, coaxing every wrinkle of beauty and pathos out of his long notes.

Before he starts “The Dream,” the epic number that he couldn’t quite play in New York, he lets out a big, here-we-go sigh, shoves back his piano bench in a jerking way totally out of sync with the dark gravitas he intends for the program. The piano parts, clearly so much denser and trickier than they need to be, change with lightning speed, his vocal registers leap high, then drop low again, but … he pulls it off!

That it’s so touching to watch has nothing to do with the song, but rather with the fact that he finally managed to hurdle a bar he’d set so ambitiously, even a bit masochistically, high for himself, so soon after his mother’s death. But then, leaving the stage amid the hush he’s imposed upon all of us, in that crazy glum-crow outfit, he is Kate and Loudon’s son, his hunger for the stage briefly sated.


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