At last night’s TBA Festival opening performance at the Schnitz, Wainright was joined by the Oregon Symphony, and Thomas Lauderdale, and Lauderdale’s big-voiced shadow Storm Large, to present a hodgepodge program that was lovely, sure, but unfocused and a little boring.
I have a feeling that PICA was trying to capture the magic of two years past when Antony and the Johnsons joined the symphony for a gorgeous, glittery, awe-inspiring program. That performance set a lovely tone for the remainder of the festival. Unfortunately, they couldn’t pull the same off with Wainwright.
At first it seemed like the magic might happen, as we were treated to portions of Wainwright’s new opera Prima Donna, concerning the struggles of a fading Diva (“Nothing to do with me. Haha,” Wainwright joked). The music was gorgeous and the singers skilled. There was much fun to be had in hearing Wainwright’s pop-y phrases translated into orchestral swells and ebbs, like a technicolor drenched film-score from a 1950’s melodrama. It was clear to me for the first 30 minutes that the beautiful Schnitz deserves Opera. And that’s when my mind began to wander... Taken by questions like: Why does the translation of the French lyrics rhyme?
Partially entranced by the music, partially lulled by it, by the time the symphony performed an astonishing mimic of a needle being scratched across a record, I’d reached a conclusion: A performance of a modern Opera is a feasible start to TBA 10. Unfortunately some around me didn’t feel the same way, leaving at the half and not returning.
I kind of wish I’d followed their lead. While I love Wainwright, the remainder of the program just felt thrown together. There was ample stage time for Lauderdale and Storm Large, both of whom I can see fairly regularly in PDX; there were some tunes from Wainwright's reinterpretation of Judy Garland’s famous concert at Carnegie Hall, all of which were pleasant and entertaining; and there were some honestly gorgeous tunes from French composer Berlioz.
But I found my mind wandering again, obsessed more with thoughts of what it would be like to bring Wainwright coffee in bed in the morning, or cook him dinner... Maybe that’s just me.
No matter. This opener didn’t really reach me. It felt designed for a Pink Martini audience that I don’t normally associate with forward-thinking forms of performance art. Frankly, I miss the old days.
Over the last 8 years, the focus and purpose of the opening night performance seems to have changed significantly. For several years the festival opened quietly, almost bashfully, without any sort of major concert event or performance. Then, in 2005, TBA dropped on the city like a Time Based bomb with a free performance from the highly physical, high flying dance group STREB.
The two years that followed saw PICA offering the city a beautiful gift on TBA opening nights, with free performances including the amazing John King Extreme Guitar Orchestra, and Rinde Eckert’s charming choral piece, On the Great Migration of Excellent Birds.
I’d like to see PICA return to this kind of spectacular, public, opening night celebration. I’d like to see the festival start with more free performances in the heart of the city. Happenings that prove art is strange and beautiful and in your face... and HERE NOW. So, you know, join us if you like.
Rufus Wainwright’s performance was innocuously pretty, at times even downright beautiful, but it wasn’t the kick in the pants the festival deserves at its start.
I’ll have to start over again tonight.
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