Earlier stage productions of Rufus Wainwright's

Prima Donna

were savaged by critics and his Auckland cut-down "symphonic visual concert" of the opera remained curiously unsatisfactory.

Music that could slip innocuously into scores by Massenet or Puccini failed to deliver a truly soaring aria to take the marvellous Madeleine Pierard, playing the fading diva, to the heights she deserved.

Flanked by the able Madison Nonoa and Filipe Manu, the soprano was the consummate artist right through to the final Fireworks aria, with its tangs of welcome dissonance and the evening's most convincing interaction with the on-screen diva of Cindy Sherman.


Having acquitted itself splendidly on the operatic side, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra returned after interval, with conductor Guy Simpson, as an ebullient big band for Wainwright's recreation of Judy Garland's historic 1961 Carnegie Hall concert.

Ten years ago, a younger, slimmer and cheekier Wainwright, wearing Garland's iconic hat, tuxedo top and stockings, defined trans-chic for a generation. This week, in red-sequinned tails and cummerbund, he was more relaxed and disarmingly laidback, working through a string of unforgettable standards, framed in master arrangements by old hands like Gordon Jenkins and Kay Thompson.

The razzmatazz of it all thrilled the Aotea audience for 70 generous minutes, including a treasured quieter interlude where Wainwright crooned Gershwin and Noel Coward to the stylish piano of our own Kevin Field.

What: Auckland Arts Festival - Rufus Wainwright
Where: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
Reviewer: William Dart