Rufus Wainwright at the Dubai Opera House

A truly transcendent evening last night at the Dubai Opera listening to Rufus Wainwright perform all of my favorite songs…

I’ve been a fan since 1999 when a friend from Trinidad sent me a mixtape of his favorite songs and one of them was a song by Rufus Wainwright. Ever since then, I’ve loved his music. So when I heard that he was coming to Dubai just for one night, I knew I had to fly over from Karachi to be here.

The Dubai Opera house is really beautiful, and could compete with any opera house in the world (although its architecture is modern, as opposed to the great European opera houses built in classical style). The house was full by the time Rufus took the stage at 9 pm, and the man sang, and sang, and sang for an hour and a half. And he played piano and guitar, accompanying himself — no backing musicians, no orchestra. Just him and his voice, stripped down, but it was so lush that it was as if he had a whole chorus of strings and percussion and backing singers behind him.

He opened with an energetic Grey Gardens (one of my favorites), and after the sleepy style of the two opening acts, the whole auditorium felt electrified. He performed all my favorite songs, including The Art Teacher, which I’ve loved the most out of all his songs, and it made me cry. He performed Les Feux d’Artifice T’Apellent, an aria from his opera Prima Donna and a Shakespearean sonnet from his previous album, This Woman’s Face (the other wonderful sonnet from this album: When in Disgrace). Other favorites: Dinner at 8, Greek Song, Going to a Town, Out of the Game,

Throughout the performance he was warm, witty, and friendly. At one point he was starting up a song by Sandy Denny, Who Knows Where the Time Goes, which he called “the saddest song” he’d ever heard, but blanked out on the beginning, and scolded himself with “No, jet lag, go away!” Theatrical and self-deprecating at the same time, which isn’t a combination you expect to see, but he pulled it off in a way that seemed utterly sincere – no artifice at all.

He performed Montauk and talked about his daughter and his husband (drawing a gasp from the audience, who were worried that in speaking publicly about his sexuality he’d never be invited to Dubai again). He spoke enthusiastically about his new opera and his new album of songs coming out in the spring of 2018, but promised that he’d be working on something more pop/rock oriented for his next album.

He joked that it was 20 years next year since his first album had come out, so he’d had to grow a beard to show that time had marked as he hadn’t changed in any other way at all — “I’m joking!” It shone white as he sang, throwing his head left and right and looking up to the ceiling in transcendent concentration. It was beautiful to see him in his element — on a stage, in front of a thousand or more people, his voice swelling through the air. At one point he sang a song a capella – and off the mic. The accoustics in the opera house were so good that he could be heard all the way in the back.

Of course he performed the crowd pleaser Hallelujah but I was so glad he didn’t end on that one, choosing instead Poses from his second album, dedicating it to the city of Los Angeles which is facing brutal wildfires right now. In the middle of the song he told us that the chorus had been inspired by Um Kulthum, the songbird of the Arab world…

Thank you Rufus, and the Dubai Opera, and please come back to this part of the world soon!

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