With 'Stars' in his eyes, Wainwright keeps busy
Next up: a tour and an opera commission
The last time we saw Rufus Wainwright -- singer, songwriter, bon vivant -- he was singing his "Gay Messiah" to an appreciative crowd at Cyndi Lauper's gay-friendly True Colors tour at the
It's been a productive period for the son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, who nonetheless has been making his own musical name for a decade.
Last summer he re-created Judy Garland's famous Carnegie Hall concert from 1961 and then took the show to Paris and London. He now plans to resurrect her Hollywood Bowl show at that esteemed venue next month. He went to Berlin, fell in love, and recorded his sumptuous new album, "Release the Stars." The 34-year-old also contributed music to the films "History Boys" and "Meet the Robinsons." And he has started work on a commission from the Met to pen a new opera, "Prima Donna."
In the midst of the world tour for "Stars," Wainwright spoke to us from Atlanta with the lowdown on the album, opera, and whether his Garland tribute will ever make its way to Boston.
Q How was the True Colors experience for you?
A It was a great honor to play, especially with [Debbie Harry] and Cyndi because those two women were really instrumental in my period of self-discovery as a gay toddler (laughs). They pointed the way in a kind, gentle, unsexual manner . . . to sex (laughs).
Q Cyndi Lauper is considering making it an annual event. Would you consider doing it again?
A Who knows? I'm thinking about this tour right now, and then once that's done in about a year, I've really got my eyes set on this opera that I'm going to write.
Q How far along are you?
A I work about an hour a day on it at least, so I'm pretty far. Once I get to orchestrating it, that's when the real muscle work begins, because you have to keep up with the greats.
Q The Judy Garland tributes were a big hit. One question: Did Judy Garland ever play Boston?
A (Laughs) I'm sure she did. She was pretty road-bound at many points in her life and had to do shows in order to get her prescriptions.
Q So will you bring Judy here?
A I'm not looking ahead of the Hollywood Bowl. I've got to get that one filled first.
Q You talked about wanting to pare down instrumentally for "Release the Stars," and many of the songs do have a fairly straightforward melodic core. But it appears you had trouble resisting dandying them up into epic chamber-rock mini-symphonies. Given your proclivities, did you really believe you could keep it simple?
A In retrospect, I was a fool to think that that was possible with me producing the work. I'm too big of an opera queen to let that happen instinctively. But I do think that my hunch was good. Even though the record didn't turn out that way, I think the idea of keeping it simple and making it more bare bones did in certain cases actually survive. And there are actually some incredibly intimate moments on the record, which in turn make the bigger moments seem bigger. It gives it a sense of perspective. I'd still love to make a solo piano Rufus record just for the hell of it, and now I definitely have to because there's nowhere else to go but down. I love it (laughs).
Q Many have gone before you to Berlin to record: David Bowie, U2, Iggy Pop. Why did you choose that city?
A It's funny, I did essentially initially choose it for that very purpose -- that Bowie and Iggy Pop and Lou Reed gravitated toward that city, mainly for the harder-edged, more serious, darker sensibilities that it had. But, of course, when I got to the city, instead of getting a weird haircut and hanging out in basements, I started visiting baroque palaces and wearing lederhosen and eating a lot [of] sausages (laughs). I got really into this bright, happy German romantic thing and was looking for dirndl practically.
Q I hear you make a special, sartorial choice for the finale of your show. Without ruining the surprise, why did you decide on the fancy costume change?
A I need a big finale at the end of a Wainwright show, only because I've really damaged the audience emotionally and even sonically at times with the amount of chords that I present to them. So I need to really go off with a bang to give them something to be happy about.