Callas and Rufus Wainwright I

I think Callas sang a lovely Norma,
you prefer Robeson in “Deep River.”
I may not be so manly,
but still I know you love me…
Rufus Wainwright, “Beauty Mark”

Rufus Wainwright, whose opera Prima Donna was inspired in part by Maria Callas, addresses these lines to his folkie mother Kate McGarrigle. “Beauty Mark” is from his 1998 début album, Rufus Wainwright. McGarrigle died in January 2010, and Wainwright published a fierce and moving tribute to her.

Over the years, Wainwright alluded to differences of style and taste between himself and his crunchy, flower-child mom, exemplified here by Callas and Bellini (precious, foofy, arcane) versus Paul Robeson and spirituals (engagé, “of the people”). Well, the dichotomy, in some ways, is false—but I digress.

The avowed contrasts between McGarrigle and Wainwright made it all the more touching to see her performing with him (for example, during his Carnegie Hall Judy Garland program) and lustily cheering him on (at New York City Opera’s 2005 Opera-For-All Gala and elsewhere).

Maria Callas never knew a mother’s unconditional love. How lucky for Wainwright (and for those of us who admire him) that McGarrigle nurtured her son’s unique talents and empowered him to pursue his own path.

Rest in peace, Kate, and thank you for leaving us your own important body of work as well as two beautiful musicians (Rufus and sister Martha).

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