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Prima Donna, a star in free fall

Rufus Wainwright's tribute to the opera diva.

Mårten Forslund, director of Prima Donna discusses his approach to the falling star.

 

The prima donna, the diva, the worshipped star. In all times, she has been strongly connected with the performing arts and music, both as an artist and performer and as a fictional character. As an audience, we are attracted by her starlight, by the perfection in expression, by her supernatural abilities. But we are also fascinated by the height of the fall from her pedestal, captivated by the sacrifices she has had to make and by the price she has paid. The prima donna is a role she has been gifted and been forced into, and around her is a fixed cast of supporting actors: the devoted fans and detractors, colleagues and managers, reviewers and agents who all have their role to play in the spectacle that upholds the idea of the exalted star.

In Rufus Wainwright's opera Prima Donna, we get to experience his fascination with the diva, the function she has in our lives as an icon, hero, role model, comfort and inspiration. We also get to see the world from her perspective, how she is forced to live up to the ever-growing expectations she has imposed on herself and on the real and imagined expectations that others have placed on her. We meet her in a series of situations surrounded by people who act out absurd hierarchies and established structures and who in turn try to live up to their assigned roles.

Our prima donna, Régine Saint Laurent, is a star in free fall. Her life has revolved entirely around opera: all she can and wants is to practice her art. Singing and theatre are her whole identity. When it is taken away from her, she loses everything. Many of us can all too well recognize ourselves in her fate, not least during the pandemic that has hit the world where so many people's opportunities for work and human contact have been snatched away, and with it a large part of our identity.

For Régine, expectations become a prison and the lost identity a black hole. But somewhere in the chaos, she senses an opportunity to break free from her role, sees a light shining through a thick curtain. And her act of resistance creates a chain reaction where the theatre is allowed to crack.

Here, the diva's situation becomes a mirror to discover ourselves in, and a role model for shaping our own identity. To create a role that can be the hero in its own drama.

Perhaps that explains why for so many of us she is a patron saint and an icon. She is both a victim and a hero, a human being and a goddess. And, like all of us, she is a little bit larger than life.

 

Mårten Forslund, director