Rufus Wainwright: Life imitates art

Rufus Wainwright is feeling terrible. It’s the day after the US election and Donald Trump is the President–elect. To help his fans cope with the shock result, the singer is planning to share an Ave Maria to Facebook on the day of this interview.

“Strangely, whatever I write seems to be really appropriate for what’s going on at the time,” Wainwright says.

“I happen to be working on this Ave Maria, as in the prayer, for a classical singer. I had a classical singer in mind, and I finished it the day of the election and noticed that it was really quite sad and dark on what should have been a joyous day and, of course, today it has all been revealed. I was going to save it up and orchestrate it and make it all pretty and nice but I think people need condolences right now.”

The Adelaide Festival-bound singer, who smoothly straddles the pop, opera and baroque worlds, says the positive side to the election result is that the “dark vision is now a solid reality” that can be combated.

“Before it was an idea and now it’s manifested itself, so if anything that’s the positive side and I’ve actually been speaking to a lot of friends in Italy who went through a similar thing with [Silvio] Berlusconi, where he really did takeover and really did ruin the country on many levels. They seem to think that America might have a slightly better chance because, at the end of the day, we are still a bastion of hope and progressive ideas and multiculturalism, but, definitely, it’s game on.”

Wainwright will perform two shows in one night for the Adelaide Festival: Rufus Does Judy (highlights from his Judy Garland tribute concerts that honours her famous 1961 performances at Carnegie Hall and the concert version of his 2009 opera Prima Donna. Intriguingly, Wainwright first performed the Garland concerts in 2006 to remind America of its glorious past when George W Bush was president.

“It’s incredibly ironic because I first did the Judy shows as a kind of antidote to the Bush years,” he says.

“It was a sort of prayer to the past and period where America was actually progressive, hopeful and inclusive, well at least trying to be. And, now that I’m going back out with this music, it’s strange, the deja vu. Whatever. Here we are again.”

Along with the Garland material, Wainwright will also perform the concert version of his Prima Donna opera, about a day in the life of an ageing opera singer, Regine Saint Laurent. Are there any similarities between Garland and Saint Laurent?

“They’re both survivors … Judy Garland songs aren’t women, but the concept of Judy Garland – and the opera singer – is this feminine force trying to get their head above water, so it’s all very appropriate. Interestingly enough in my artistic life, I have found myself of late being kind of pissed off at how well it correlates with the goings on in the world around me and in my life. I mean, I don’t know how to change a lightbulb, really,” he laughs.

“Or how to make my bed and often I’m not the best at communicating my needs or hearing the needs of others but artistically it’s always spot on with what’s happening. It might seem like a great thing but it’s actually becoming kind of annoying because I want to write happy songs.”

Is Wainwright, who released Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets in April 2016, writing pop songs?

“I have all that. I have a lot of material, and I think by the time… I’m finishing an opera [Hadrian] in 2018 and then hopefully by the time Trump is out of office I’ll have a number one hit,” he laughs.

Rufus Wainwright
Prima Donna: A Symphonic Visual Concert
Rufus Does Judy: Highlights from the Carnegie Hall Concerts
Festival Theatre
Saturday, March 18

adelaidefestival.com.au

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