All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu
Consisting solely of piano and voice, Rufus Wainwright’s latest album is out a week before his opera, Prima Donna, receives its London premiere. Toto, we’re not in Pop World any more, not that Wainwright has ever really dwelt there.
Lloyd Webber-meets-lieder might be one tag for the material, though to imply anything ersatz about the depth of emotion in “So Sad with What I Have” and “Martha” is wrong. The latter touchingly narrates his part of a phone call to his sister about their cancer-stricken mother, Kate McGarrigle, who subsequently died this January. “Who Are You, New York?” is the curtain raiser and “The Dream” a climactic big number, but I didn’t get a particular sense of a theatrical storyline unfolding.
Of the three settings of Shakespeare sonnets, “A woman’s face, with Nature’s own hand painted” satisfies most, finding the right tempo for a patient accounting of the text; the others, distinctly tongue-twisty, suggest why the Bard is so tricky for musicians to grapple with. If the ambition is admirable, there’s overreach here.
Wainwright’s dolorous dandy’s drawl is best in lento passages, yet interest in his mournful melodies can flag. It should all come together on stage, though, where his natural showmanship is bound to inhabit the drama fully.