Photo by Matthew Welch
Rufus Wainwright is known for his powerful, emotional songwriting and pushing the limits of the power of music. His first self-titled album came out 20 years ago, and his songwriting, performing and touring show no signs of stopping any time soon.
He comes from a musical family as the son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle and older brother of Martha Wainwright. He learned how to play piano at age six, and his interest in music and the world of opera continued to grow over the years.
Since then, he’s written two operas (one of which, Hadrian, is currently being shown at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto until Saturday), set Shakespeare sonnets to music, released seven albums of original music, performed a cover version of an entire Judy Garland concert and much more.
Before embarking on his All These Poses tour in November, Wainwright is doing a solo show at the Fargo Theatre at on Sunday, October 28. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $35-$50.
We got the chance to talk to him during a break in his busy schedule about his new opera Hadrian, what he most wants to be known for and more.
Have you been to Fargo or North Dakota before?
I haven’t, no. I’m very excited to come to North Dakota. I’m a Heidi Heitkamp supporter and I feel like very, I’m very worried about her prospects so it’s good to come and get a feel for that and try to do what I can to help.
What are your impressions of our area before you get here? I know a lot of people think of the TV show or the movie.
I think of that, of course, but I’m looking forward to some vast views of beautiful emptiness, which, certainly, living on either coast is uncommon. So there’s that, and I know that there’s a lot of Native American culture there and just coming into contact with some of that and going to the heartland of the United States and selling my wares.
I know the idea for the opera Hadrian had been in your mind for a long time. What has the reception been like since it opened on October 13?
The reception has been fantastic, and it’s definitely a dream come true to have written a truly grand opera, so I’m happy with that. It’s looking very positive in terms of having it travel to other major cities. I don’t think it’s going to come to Fargo, but hopefully you can book a trip to Paris, let’s say, and go see it there, so we’re just keeping our fingers crossed.
You’ve performed all over the world, and you’ve collaborated with so many different people on lots of different projects, you’ve written two operas and there’s a lot more that you’ve done as well. What do you do to relax and recharge with your busy schedule?
I write a lot of music still and I try to remember that the world is a good place. I think having a child, I have a daughter who’s around seven and a half, my husband and I have her, and I think just having time to enjoy being her father and really seeing the world through children’s eyes is very helpful and very humbling. So there’s that, and I get a massage here and there.
You’ve had a very decorated and critically acclaimed career, and Sir Elton John even called you the greatest songwriter on the planet, but I know you’ve also had your share of struggle and heartbreak, too. So what would you say are you most proud of accomplishing?
Well, the opera is one of the big ones, Hadrian. And I think also I’ve worked very hard over the years on my singing. I think I’m a much better singer now than I was when I started. A lot of that happened after I did the Judy Garland shows and I really had to focus on my breathing and diction and tone and so on and so forth, so I think having survived that and also not fallen down the rabbit hole, which was very easy to do at a certain point in my life. So those are a few of the things.
When you look back over your life and career, what do you most want to be known for?
I think of anything, I’d like to be known for being an artist who brought people together. One of the things about opera that’s fantastic is that it really forces all the disciplines to cohabitate artistically, and also the pop world is so removed from the opera world that you have to sort of bring about a sense of sharing in that department. And I guess the pursuit of excellence in creation and the search for truth and beauty.
What’s something that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to?
I’d like to write a really great musical that on one hand, is very touching and effective, and also makes me a lot of money. If that works out, it’s very lucrative, which would be kind of fun to do it that way as opposed to sell my soul to whatever.
Do you have a favorite song or a couple of favorite songs you really enjoy performing?
No, I couldn’t choose a favorite. I love all my children equally.
That was all the questions I had for you. Was there anything else you’d like to add?
Go out and vote. Everybody should vote. Just vote.