Rufus Wainwright on Opera, Gaga
Published April 16, 2010
PHOTO BY KEVIN WESTERBERG
Rufus Wainwright is currently touring Europe in support of his sixth studio album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu. We spoke to him from Glasgow about the London premiere of his opera, Prima Donna, his plans for a hit single, and Lady Gaga.
INTERVIEW: How are you liking the beginning of your tour?
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: Today is the official first day of my tour. I played London– I was also there for my opera–but now I’m on the road, living on the bus, sacrificing my life for my public.
INTERVIEW: How was the premiere of the opera?
WAINWRIGHT: It was pretty fascinating. The audiences were fantastic, and many people came to the opening night, like Boy George, and Mark Ronson, Duran Duran, the Pet Shop Boys–so it was a star-studded, friend-infested freak show. I was very happy and we’re all very excited, and then the reviews came out and there were some really great ones, but then there’s this clump of classical music people who really just did not want to go where I’m taking them, in terms of bringing back melody to opera, which is really not done anymore. It’s an interesting collision of two worlds, coming in from somewhere where melody is so prominent to somewhere where its been abolished, basically.
INTERVIEW: Did the negative reviews bother you? Were you looking for establishment approval with the opera?
WAINWRIGHT: It bothers me the instant that I read it, but then I think about it and I talk to people and then I realize that it really bears no relation to the future of the piece. Only because opera is very different from the pop world. I mean, the pop world is popular, and it’s about what the people want and connecting to the masses, whereas opera, although it was once popular–and I still believe it can be–it has become very elitist and intellectual, but that certainly doesn’t sell tickets. It’s a struggle, but I’ve always embraced struggle and thrived off of it, so it’s the way my life needs to go.
INTERVIEW: Would you write another one?
WAINWRIGHT: Yeah. Definitely. I’ve been asked to write an opera again by several people. I mean, they know what’s good for them [LAUGHS], and several theaters. I intend to do it again, at some point. I would like to make a pop record now, though, after all of this classical music wandering, and get back to some good old tits and ass.
INTERVIEW: And how do you feel about the reception of your new album?
WAINWRIGHT: The reviews have been stunning for that. My first opera is one thing–you’re at the beginning of a voyage–but with this album, which is my sixth studio album, I think, I’ve definitely arrived critically, and it is solely for that reason. I mean, it’s only piano and voice, so I’m not for radio here or anything, but people are really enjoying this work. And more than that, the show just shattered London [laughs]. We got like three five-star reviews for the show because it’s very, very formal. I worked with Douglas Gordon, the great visual artist, and also with my friend Zaldi, who did the outfits for Michael Jackson. We do this very stark presentation of the album where nobody applauds, and it’s all done in complete silence–except for the music, of course. I don’t talk to the audience or anything, and it’s very powerful. So I’m very proud of that.
INTERVIEW: It’s very stripped-down. Why did you decide to do it that way?
WAINWRIGHT: There’s a lot of reasons. One is that, as a lot of people know, I’ve had a really up and down year, mainly with the death of my mother being the down part, and then the production of the opera being the up part. But, all of it has really required a lot of people, a lot of feelings, a lot of negotiation and group effort. So, I was naturally drawn to the piano, where I could be alone, where I could process how I was really feeling and not have the world know about it–not at that moment at least. I knew eventually they’d find out! And, also, to somehow protect me, and get me through this very dramatic stage in my life. So, there was that, and then also, on a more practical level, I’m feeling the pinch as well, as is main street. We live in a recession, so for me to go out with a piano is keeping with the times we’re in. This isn’t a lavish period we’re living in. So I think it relates a lot to the general atmosphere of the world.
INTERVIEW: Do you think that will continue on to your next record?
WAINWRIGHT: I don’t. For my next record I’d like to go back to pop and make something relatively fun and toe-tapping, to get some pictures taken of me or something, in some weird outfits. More sexy as opposed to death-like. I guess that’s sort of sexy though, “death-like.” Anyway, I guess I’ll never get away from the death-like thing. But yeah, I’d like to go out and shake my booty one more time.
INTERVIEW: Is there anything you’re specifically interested in accomplishing, at this point?
WAINWRIGHT: I would love to have a number one hit. The truth is if I don’t get one, I’ll be fine, but at the same time, the truth is that I’m dying for one, as well. But it’s worth a shot, I think, while I still have cheekbones. I don’t know, I’ve done everything else [laughs].
INTERVIEW: What do you think it would take to make a number one song?
WAINWRIGHT: To be honest, I have no idea, and I’m so disconnected emotionally from what it takes to get there. I have an ounce of Lady Gaga’s full-bodied ambition.
INTERVIEW: What do you think of Lady Gaga?
WAINWRIGHT: Well, I talk about her all the time, as everybody does. On one hand, I’m amazed, and in awe, and on the other hand, I’m horrified. I think she should be applauded for her tenacity and her slaying of popular culture, but on the other hand, I do find there is a slight hole there somewhere. There’s an emotional vacuum that is just not picking me up–it’s lost its suction power–and my heart isn’t drawn to it…Other parts of my body certainly are! But it’s just not—I’ve always been more into artists who are really driven by their somewhat volatile personalities and who they really are. For instance, I think David Bowie is great, but I was more into Nina Simone, or people who are who they are. Constructs always make me a little weirded out.