For Take All My Loves…, Rufus Wainwright has mostly ditched the “pop” in “popera.” He’s been known for opera-esque piano-driven pop that is at once aloof and sentimental, but this is his take at pure opera with only occasional bits of modern-popular musical techniques. Most of the performance workload is carried by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin String Section, and Anna Prohaska’s legit opera-voice. Also, some celebrities break it up with dramatic readings of the same lyrics (Carrie Fischer, The Shatner, Helena Bonham Carter, et al)It’s not Wainwright’s first foray into the classic fine art—his debut libretto Prima Donna premiered in 2009, and he’s got another coming out in 2018. These pieces have been amalgamating since ’09 out of various commissions from highfalutin theater directors and city symphonies. So put on your black tie or dress and your adult-ears:
Some of the more extreme exceptions include the Interpol-y post-punk of straight rocker “Unperfect Actor (Sonnet 23),” the Margaritaville bossa nova of “When in Disgrace With Fortune and Men’s Eyes” (featuring Florence Welch), and the trip hop drums under “A Woman’s Face – Reprise (Sonnet 20).”
The most interesting tracks are probably the ones that straddle the lines between opera, repurposed world music, and western pop. “All dessen müd” could fit in both the Fiddler On the Roof and as a mid-set ballad for Gogol Bordello. The orchestra’s sinister builds on “Th’Expense of Spirit in a Waste Of Shame” would sound great on an experimental metal album or horror soundtrack, and “A Woman’s Face (Sonnet 20)” is propelled by some sort of xylophone lullaby that feels more indie album than stuffy concert hall.
Either way, this album might be a hard sell for those who wouldn’t at least entertain the idea of an evening at the opera. But for those who could find themselves there as well as listening to thumbing through Spotify for baroque pop, this is worth a go. The readings aren’t totally necessary, considering the fact that they repeat the lyrics word for word. But, the mix of major-label, twenty-something sounds and orchestral timbres is worth a listen.