Accordingly, while Rufus was born in Rhinebeck, New York, in July 1973, he spent much of his childhood and early adolescence living in Montreal, Canada, with his mother. He moved to NYC to study at the prestigious private school Millbrook (which later inspired his song ‘Millbrook’) before heading back to Montreal to study piano at McGill University.
Rufus had first begun tinkering with the piano at the age of six and, by 13, he was accomplished enough to start touring with The McGarrigle Sisters & Family: an extended folk group featuring Rufus alongside his sister Martha, their mother Kate and their aunt Anna McGarrigle. Both Rufus and Martha contributed early songs to a children’s movie, Tommy Tricker And The Stamp Traveller, shot by Canadian director Michael Rubbo and released in 1988. Rufus’ contribution, ‘I’m A-Runnin’’ brought him some early critical acclaim when he was nominated for a Genie, the Canadian Cinema and Television’s equivalent of a BAFTA Award.
Wainwright’s interest in opera became pronounced during his adolescence: a time when he became interested in seminal stars of stage and screen such as Edith Piaf, Al Jolson and Judy Garland. He also continued to write his own material, playing live on the Montreal club circuit during his late teens and early 20s, becoming a regular draw at the city’s popular Café Sarajevo.
Wainwright recorded a series of demos with producer Pierre Marchand (whose credits also include Sarah McLachlan and Ron Sexsmith), and these tapes impressed his father Loudon, who passed them on to his friend, the composer/Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Also suitably knocked out, Parks passed Rufus’ demos to DreamWorks Records’ executive Lenny Waronker, who was blown away by what he heard and signed Wainwright to the label.
Having moved to New York City, Wainwright further honed his craft performing shows at Club Fez, though he elected to relocate to Los Angeles to record his self-titled debut LP with producer Jon Brion, whose resumé also includes production work with artists as diverse as Dido and Robyn Hitchcock.
Brion and Wainwright took their time in the studio, eventually recording over 50 completed songs over the next 18 months. These were whittled down to 12 for Rufus Wainwright, which was finally released in May 1998. Only loosely related to rock and pop in the strictest sense, the album was totally out of step with the late 90s music scene. It was, however, a splendid showcase for Wainwright’s strikingly individual, cabaret-style vocal delivery, and included songs such as the neo-operatic ‘Foolish Love’ (which featured lush, sweeping orchestration from Van Dyke Parks), the romantic, Spanish-flavoured ‘In My Arms’ and the deathly ballad ‘Damned Ladies’, which referred to nine separate opera heroines.
Rufus Wainwright didn’t chart internationally, though it did make No.24 on the US Billboard Heatseekers chat for new artists. More importantly, it announced Wainwright as a creative force to be reckoned with, bestowing him with Rolling Stone’s prestigious ‘Best New Artist’ award for 1998 and a nomination at Canada’s Juno Awards. Elsewhere, Wainwright – who was openly gay himself – received recognition from the Gay & Lesbian American Awards, winning their GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Album of 1998.
With his star in the ascendency, Wainwright promoted his album, touring with John Lennon’s son Sean and headlining his own tour of North America, in March 1999. He then returned to New York, temporarily settling at the city’s notorious Chelsea Hotel: formerly a home to artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Charles Bukowski, and the place where Sid Vicious’ girlfriend Nancy Spungen had notoriously been murdered late in 1978.
Wainwright wrote most of the songs for his next album while ensconced at the Chelsea. Produced mostly by his old Montreal collaborator, Pierre Marchand, and released in June 2001, the resulting Poses was a rather more approachable, radio-friendly LP. Wainwright’s neo-operatic tenor was still in full effect, but many of the tracks had relatively poppy arrangements and even utilised modern studio tricks such as drum loops, though there was still room for idiosyncratic tunes such as the Spaghetti Western-style ‘Greek Song’ and a neat cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s ‘One Man Guy’, performed by Rufus alongside his sister Martha and Richard and Linda Thompson’s son Teddy.
Poses also put up a stronger commercial performance than its predecessor. It rose to No.117 on the US Billboard 200; topped the Billboard Heatseekers chart; and sold well in Canada, where it was eventually certified gold. Wainwright again toured heavily to promote the album throughout 2001-02, playing headlining tours in North America and supporting prestigious artists such as Sting and Tori Amos.
2003 found Wainwright edging ever closer to mainstream acceptance. He had a cameo in an episode of popular, satirical UK sitcom Absolutely Fabulous and sang alongside Antony Hegarty, of Antony & The Johnsons, for fashion designer Zaldy Goco’s spring collection. He also laid down enough material at highly productive sessions helmed by producer Marius de Vries (Björk; Massive Attack; David Bowie) for more than two full albums.
The first of these, Want One, was released in September 2003. A restlessly creative set of lush, richly textured songs, it included vocal contributions from Martha Wainwright and Linda Thompson, and featured songs of epic proportions (‘Go Or Go Ahead’; the opulent, rock opera-style ‘14th Street’) and gentler, understated numbers such as ‘Vibrate’ and ‘Natasha’, which was written for – and about – Wainwright’s troubled actress friend, Natasha Lyonne. Performance-wise, Want One again improved upon Poses, climbing to No.60 on the US Billboard 200 and earning a gold certification in the UK. The album also attracted sustained critical acclaim, earning Wainwright another GLAAD Media Award and a nomination for the 2004 Shortlist Prize.
Released by Geffen, Want Two was drawn from tracks from the same sessions with Marius de Vries. First appearing in November 2004, the album peaked at No.103 on the Billboard 200 and at an impressive No.21 in the UK, where it also earned a silver certification. Impeccably scored, with lush strings, horn sections and celestial choirs all featuring, Want Two was an ambitious, if slightly more introspective sister act which included cameos from Antony Hegarty (duetting with Wainwright on ‘Old Whore’s Diet’) and Rufus’ mum, Kate McGarrigle, who sang with her sister Anna on ‘Hometown Waltz’.
Want One and Want Two were subsequently repackaged as Want and re-released in November 2005 to coincide with Wainwright’s highly anticipated UK tour, which – with immaculate timing – was pencilled in after he’d turned in major vocal contributions to two highly acclaimed releases, Antony & The Johnsons’ Mercury Music Prize-winning I Am A Bird Now and Burt Bacharach’s At This Time.
Issued through Geffen in May 2007, Wainwright’s fifth studio album, Release The Stars, proved to be his major mainstream breakthrough. Co-produced by Marius de Vries and Andy Bradfield, it included cameos from Richard Thompson, Joan Wasser and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, and it was sequenced from sessions in studios in London, New York and at Saal 4 –formerly the famous Hansa Tonstudio – in Berlin. (The latter city clearly got under Wainwright’s skin as a couple of album’s most memorable cuts, ‘Tiergarten’ and ‘Sansoucci’, relate to famous places in and around Berlin.)
Sonically, Release The Stars was again long on ambition. Full of widescreen, baroque-pop operas and awash with lush orchestration, it was a striking collection featuring swooping numbers such as ‘Nobody’s Off The Hook’, but also unlikely departures the likes of ‘Going To A Town’ (with its atypically angry critique of the George W Bush administration) and the swaggering, T. Rex-like glam-pop of ‘Between My Legs’.
Release The Stars wowed the critics – and fans responded in kind, sending the album to No.23 on the US Billboard 200 and to a giddy No.2 on the UK Top 40. The album also had legs across the rest of the globe, where it charted in 13 different territories and eventually earned gold certifications in the UK and Canada. In support of the record, Wainwright embarked on an extensive world tour, which took in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania before winding down with a triumphant homecoming show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2008.
Released while he was still on tour in December 2007, Wainwright’s next LP was a live album, Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall. Taken from two sold-out 2006 shows at the legendary New York venue where Wainwright and a 36-piece orchestra performed his heroine Judy Garland’s entire setlist from her much-vaunted show at Carnegie Hall on 23 April 1961, Rufus Does Judy… surprisingly only made No.171 on the US Billboard 200, but it was a hot ticket critically and it was nominated for a 2009 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
The cancer-related death of Wainwright’s mother, Kate McGarrigle, hung heavily over Rufus’ next studio LP, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, his debut for Decca, which was released in March 2010. Eschewing the ornate orchestration present on much of his previous work, All Days… featured a haunting, deeply personal set of songs performed by Wainwright alone at the piano. It included impressionistic, classical-style readings of three Shakespeare sonnets (‘Sonnet 10’, ‘Sonnet 20’ and ‘Sonnet 43’), as well as stark, but emotional, compositions such as ‘Sad With What I Have’ and the slow, dirge-like ‘Zebulon’, which referred to his mother’s illness and her last days.
All Days… failed to match up to Release The Stars’ stellar performance, though it did climb to a highly respectable No.21 on the UK Top 40, as well as to No.75 on the US Billboard 200. Wainwright also attracted a glut of positive critical notices when he toured the album solo during 2010, sometimes playing the tracks from the new album in one continuous song cycle.
After the deeply introspective All The Days…Wainwright’s next album, Out Of The Game, released in April 2012, found him hooking up with in-demand production wunderkind Mark Ronson, famous for helming Grammy-winning albums by the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse. Between them, Wainwright and Ronson concocted arguably the poppiest LP yet to be stamped with Rufus Wainwright’s name, taking in everything from the Todd Rundgren-esque titular song to disco-flavoured, Giorgio Moroder-esque tunes such as ‘Barbara’ and ‘Bitter Tears’. The album divided critics, but once again Wainwright’s loyal fanbase were happy to indulge their versatile hero’s whims: Out Of The Game again performed strongly on both sides of the Atlantic, peaking at No.35 on the US Billboard 200 and rising to No.5 in the UK.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Rufus Wainwright’s most recent album release (through Deutsche Grammophon) was September 2015’s Prima Donna: a double-vinyl issue of the opera he co-composed to a French-language libretto he’d co-authored with Bernadette Colomine in 2009. He’s also completed a second opera, Hadrian, which is scheduled to premiere, but reputedly not until 2018.
How this diversion into the world of classical music will impact upon Wainwright’s future pop career is as yet unclear, though in the meantime, connoisseurs keen to invest wholesale in Rufus Wainwright’s magnificent, chameleonic career are advised to seek out the limited edition House Of Rufus: a 19-CD Universal Music-sponsored box set, which comes encased in a red velvet-covered book and includes all his studio albums (bar Out Of The Game).
Words: Tim Peacock
What separates Rufus Wainwright and the other second-generation singers who sprang up at the same time (Sean Lennon, Emma Townshend, and Chris Stills the most notable among them) is that Wainwright deserves to be heard regardless of his family tree; in fact, the issue of his parentage is ultimately as immaterial as that of his sexuality -- this self-titled debut cares little for the rock clichés of an earlier generation, instead heralding the arrival of a unique and compelling voice steeped most solidly in the traditions of cabaret. Like his folks, Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, he's a superb songwriter, with a knack for elegantly rolling piano melodies and poignantly romantic lyrics; while the appearance of Van Dyke Parks and his trademark orchestral arrangements hints at an affinity for the pop classicism of Brian Wilson or Randy Newman, the vocals come straight out of opera, and although Wainwright is unlikely to be starring in La Boheme anytime soon, he conveys the kind of honest emotion sorely lacking in the ironic posing of many of his contemporaries. Maybe the kids are alright after all.
Words: Jason Ankeny
Talented chamber pop troubadour Rufus Wainwright followed up his startlingly fresh debut album with the 2001 release Poses. While his self-titled first album was very much a work by Wainwright (aided by his contributing producers), Poses seems to be more of a group effort, with the young composer allowing the other performers on the album to lend their talents, creating an even fuller, more "live" sound. Both Wainwright's younger sister Martha and son of British folk near-legends Richard and Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson contribute harmony vocals which soar above Rufus' affecting moan like the choir he must hear in his head. Produced by Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan), the album continues the same outstretched, enveloping sound established by Wainwright's earlier work, but contributors like contemporary composer Damian le Gassick and Propellerheads' Alex Gifford push in different directions, adding understated drum loops and gritty beats in unexpected places. Above all of the studio gimcrackery and pedigreed guest stars floats Wainwright himself, whose introspective, wry, and heart-wrenching songwriting remains his true strength (although his leisurely operatic tenor is not far behind). The clunking, loping "Greek Song" evokes the sprawl of an impossible Ingmar Bergman spaghetti Western, while the swaggering "California" shows a sunny exterior masking the song's satirical sneer. Amidst this sonic barrage, a high point comes in the cover of patriarch Loudon Wainwright III's "One Man Guy." Performed by Rufus, Martha, and Teddy Thompson's simple acoustic guitar, these three grown children of the '70s folk movement embrace the song faithfully, basking in their own harmonies and offering a respite from the blissfully lush orchestral pop that surrounds it. While Poses shows growth and worthwhile exploration, the album's "group" feel suffers only slightly from being less intimate than Wainwright's first album. Although his contributors add much, there was something blushingly personal about his debut that may have gotten a little buried this time around. That being said, Poses is still a spectacular album, brimming over with Wainwright's trademark popera and young romantic wishes. At times the album is beautifully discordant and sonically chilling, but often hints at warm grins with mischievous winks.
Words: Zac Johnson
Rufus Wainwright croons and cries through another set of obscenely lush and opulent pop operettas on his third album Want One. As is to be expected, the songs are meticulously layered and richly textured, with full orchestral passages and many-throated harmonies. Producer Marius deVries (Björk, Massive Attack, Madonna) didn't mess with the already successful Wainwright sound, allowing for the young singer/ songwriter/multi-instrumentalist to explore his familiar themes of love, loss, and "singin' about places" with the anticipated fanfare and flourish. The album's strongest segment comes in the middle, beginning with the intimate-to-epic "Go or Go Ahead," barreling through the wildly spinning rock opera "14th Street," and landing softly on the gently chiming "Natasha." Oddly, unlike his previous two releases, Wainwright's musings seem less focused and a little meandering on a handful of the songs. The lazy, loping "Want" is much more stream-of-consciousness than anything else he's recorded, and the slightly goofy "Vibrate" (with its references to Britney Spears and electroclash) may sound dated before the album is played a second time. The sessions that produced Want One were apparently so prolific that another volume (Want Two?) is in the works, but it could turn out to be that distilling both albums down to one would have made for a more complete overall work. Who knows, this new looseness to his rigid pop constructivism may end up being a good thing, and, frankly, Wainwright could be singing lists of names out of the phone book and it would still be more exciting and inventive than 99 percent of the other albums out there.
Words: Zac Johnson
Picking up where Want One left off, Rufus Wainwright's Want Two is a deeply introspective, sometimes kinky, and often personally critical set of mini-operettas that ruminate on his various relationships, drug abuse, and image in the media. Metaphorically liturgical and often classical in sound, Want Two touches on such interrelated themes as love, loneliness, sin, and sacrifice. It's more focused than Want One and as such packs more of a wallop both musically and emotionally. On the cover of Want One, Wainwright appeared as a chivalrous knight in armor, bringing to mind the conquering crusader -- Sir Gawain the gay knight? Conversely, on Want Two he appears as a dark-haired maiden -- the suicidal Ophelia? The imagery not only speaks to the campy and loaded cliché of the male-and-female, yin-and-yang drive of the gay male persona, but more importantly how one's personal desires are often sacrificed because of public successes. Never one to shy away from personal issues, Wainwright deals explicitly with how his sexuality has affected his life and career, not merely as a gay man but as a burgeoning gay icon with a complex desire to both embrace and ignore all that entails. This is no more apparent than on the album centerpiece, the iconoclastic "Gay Messiah," in which Wainwright both mocks gay pop culture and laments his ability to live up to his fan base's desire for a artistic hero in the culture wars. He sings, "He will be reborn/From 1970s porn/Wearing tube socks with style/And such an innocent smile," and later, "No it will not be me/Rufus the Baptist I be." Similarly, on the opening track, "Agnus Dei," he croons, "Agnus dei/Qui tollis peccata mundi/Dona nobis pacem." Translated it means, "Lamb of God/Who takest away the sins of the world/Grant us peace." It's Wainwright's most direct plea for both personal and public absolution and helps leave the impression of an artist attempting to find emotional buoyancy in the often perilous waters of both the music business and the dating scene. Musically, Wainwright has never seemed more in command of his muse. References to Nilsson, Brian Wilson, and Randy Newman are a matter of course, but Wainwright's growth as a pop craftsman with his own unique lyrical voice -- both conceptually and literally -- makes such comparisons unnecessary. To these ends, lush string orchestras, cheery choirs, and piping horn sections decorate the impeccably scored album and perfectly complement Wainwright's swooning vocals. Taken as a whole, Want One and Want Two work well together as a sprawling and ambitious double album that is camp, serious, and utterly compelling.
Words: Matt Collar
If ever there was an artist that embodied both the urbane popular songsmithing of Cole Porter and the epic winged grandeur of Richard Wagner it is Rufus Wainwright. Having not so much perfected as succumbed to this yin-yang pull on his laboriously ambitious and intermittently inspired 2003 and 2004 albums Want One and Want Two, Wainwright once again delivers a baroque collection of songs on 2007's Release the Stars. Recorded at least partially in Berlin and London with Pet Shop Boys lead Neil Tennant, the album finds Wainwright casting himself as a kind of expatriate torch singer, a veritable Marlene Dietrich of emotion who, as he laments on "Going to a Town," is "so tired of America." In that sense, Release the Stars is at once intensely personal and utterly theatrical with Wainwright playing both ingénue and femme fatale in a series of increasingly cinematic pop-operas about true love gone not so much bad, but sad. He pleads to make it to the other side of town, and possibly the other side of monogamy, with his brown-eyed lover in "Tiergarten" and dreams lazily about, "the boys that made me lose the blues and then my eyesight" on "Sanssouci." While these songs are lushly produced, often with full orchestration, and while Wainwright has a knack for pretty, lilting melodies and concrete imagery there is nonetheless a distinct lack of pop hooks here. In fact, only the chugging T. Rex inspired glam rock of "Between My Legs" gets at any real pop meat. The main problem is that it's never quite clear if Wainwright, who has always been to pop music as cabaret is to Broadway, is dressing opera up as pop or vice versa. But when you wear custom Lederhosen as well as Wainwright does throughout the album liner notes, does it really matter? [The CD was also released with a DVD.]
Words: Matt Collar
If Release the Stars displayed Rufus Wainwright as a weary, wannabe expatriate who was (in his own words) "so sick of America," then Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall -- released just seven months later -- shows him falling in love with the country all over again. Few things are as American as the American Songbook, which Wainwright tackles here with energy, camp, and a sly wink. Reprising the entirety of Judy Garland's 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall, he regains much of the momentum that was lost in Release the Stars' slower moments, performing live with a brisk 36-piece orchestra and several family guests. Perhaps there are people better suited to this task than Wainwright, singers who more closely embody the innocence that Garland always seemed to radiate in spite of her growing addiction to booze and Benzedrine. But Wainwright is obviously enamored with Garland -- who, in addition to her role as one of America's greatest female entertainers, has also become an enduring icon in postwar gay history -- and he revels in the glamour and glitz of her 45-year-old set list. These songs hail from a golden era dotted with trolley cars, Cadillacs, and glitzy jazz clubs, an era in which Wainwright never lived but still has the ability to convey. The secret rests in his vocals, which rise and fall between notes with all the smoothness of a slide guitar. Steeped in opera music and Tin Pan Alley tunes, Wainwright doesn't fall prey to the trappings of a contemporary pop singer, but rather comes across as someone much older. He sings in a fail-safe tenor with colorful vibrato, unafraid to tackle several songs in their original keys and rarely, if ever, missing a note. His infrequent mistakes are mostly lyrical or rhythmic in nature -- a flubbed line here, a botched intro there -- and they're met with applause from the audience. So while the performance isn't perfect, particularly toward the end of the show (where, after two hours of performing swing tunes and jazz standards, Wainwright is understandably low on steam), it's still nice to hear the singer in his element, crooning about dinging trolleys and zinging heartstrings with flamboyancy that only he can muster.
Words: Andrew Leahey
Rufus Wainwright's 2012 studio effort, Out of the Game, is a '70s singer/songwriter album with some soft rock and disco and elements that bring to mind a mix of Boz Scaggs, ELO, and Todd Rundgren. Produced by Mark Ronson, the master of making retro new again, Out of the Game has a vintage, organic aesthetic featuring horns, old-school keyboards, strings, and the occasional fuzzed-out guitar. In that sense, it is a return to the more straightforward pop/rock style of Wainwright's early albums, although some of the opera and classical influences of 2007's Release the Stars are still evident. Similarly, the stark personal style Wainwright investigated on 2010's All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is also still here, albeit in a much more pop-friendly and melodically palatable form. Wainwright, who has always been a deeply intimate songwriter (he confronted his crystal meth addiction and recovery from it on 2003's Want One, dealt directly with the death of his mother, Kate McGarrigle, on Lulu, and has never shied away from addressing his homosexuality), here details his life since becoming engaged to his partner in 2010 and fathering a child in 2011 with Lorca Cohen (Leonard Cohen's daughter) on the impressionistic "Montauk." In the song, Wainwright croons to his future adult daughter, "One day you will come to Montauk and see your dad wearing a kimono and see your other dad pruning roses/Hope you won't turn around and go." Later in the song, he summons the ghost of his mother with the line, "One day years ago years ago in Montauk lived a woman now a shadow/There she does wait for us in the ocean." It's a terribly bittersweet moment and a kind of apotheosis of all the events that inform the mood on Out of the Game. As moving as that song is, Wainwright and Ronson balance out the more introspective songs with such immediately engaging cuts as the Rundgren-esque soft rock title track anthem, the soulful baroque pop of "Jericho," and the T. Rex-meets-'60s girl group-sounding ballad "Rashida." Elsewhere, "Barbara," "Bitter Tears," and the languid "Song of You" evince a kind of Giorgio Moroder Europop vibe and also compare favorably to works by such similarly inclined Wainwright contemporaries as Ron Sexsmith and Richard Hawley. Although Wainwright's private life may have taken him out of the pop game for a time, this album is one of his most classicist, not classical, pop records and in that sense, Out of the Game is definitely a winner.
Words: Matt Collar
All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu finds singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright stripping back the operatic flourishes of his 2007 album Release the Stars to deliver a stark and deeply personal collection of songs. Where Stars often featured large backing ensemble arrangements, here Wainwright simply accompanies himself on piano, allowing the lyrics of these poetic, introspective songs and his voice to take the spotlight. Never one to shirk away from cerebral and conceptual artistic endeavors, Wainwright has adapted three Shakespeare sonnets here that work quite well as ruminative, classically impressionistic-style pieces. Elsewhere, tracks like "Who Are You New York" and "Sad with What I Have" feature Wainwright's longstanding knack for clever and ironic turns of phrase. Obviously, the memory of Wainwright's mother, Kate McGarrigle, who died in 2010 after an extended illness, hangs heavy throughout the album. It is clear that Wainwright wrote and recorded much of All Days Are Nights during her illness, and themes of loss, depression, and sadness permeate these songs. Wainwright addresses this directly in "Martha," a yearning plea to his sister, singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright, to whom he also dedicates the album. Wainwright sings, "Martha it's your brother calling. Time to go up north and see mother. Things are harder for her now and neither of us is really that much older than each other anymore." The song, as with most of of All Days Are Nights, is a bold, absolutely emotionally naked statement that still retains Wainwright's devastating talent for artful, universally compelling songcraft.
Words: Matt Collar
Milwaukee at Last!!! captures singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright performing live in Wisconsin at the Pabst Theater on August 27, 2007. Recorded while on tour in support of his 2007 studio effort, Release the Stars, Milwaukee at Last!!! finds Wainwright drawing heavily from that album, along with a few inclusions from 2003's Want Two and 2007's Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall. In that sense, Milwaukee is reminiscent of the opera-esque aspirations of Release the Stars, as Wainwright includes the best material off that album and delivers the songs in a timely, dramatic fashion that makes for a well-paced listen. If Rufus Does Judy was Wainwright's own homage to a classic live recording, then Milwaukee plays as his own would-be concert masterpiece. Surrounded by a large brass and woodwind ensemble and backed by a superb rock band, Wainwright is left to command center stage here as only he can, with a cabaret sense of derring-do and a theatrical style, while never sacrificing the true emotional weight of his songs. Reminiscent of live shows by such similarly inclined artists as Elton John, David Bowie, and, well, Bette Midler perhaps, Milwaukee is simply a fantastic listen that showcases Wainwright as both a showman and a deeply creative songwriter with a superb knack for live performance.
Words: Matt Collar
Rufus Wainwright's first opera, Prima Donna, was premiered at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, England in 2009, and it was performed between 2010 and 2012 in London, Toronto, and New York. This 2015 Deutsche Grammophon release was recorded in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jayce Ogren, and featured Janis Kelly as the diva, Régine Saint Laurent, Kathryn Guthrie as her maid, Marie, Antonio Figueroa as the journalist, André Letourneur, and Richard Morrison as the butler, Philippe. In his lyricism and sense of orchestral color, Wainwright clearly derives inspiration from the operas of Giacomo Puccini, though the influence of Stephen Sondheim is apparent in his dramatic writing. Wainwright's choice of French for his libretto seems to be a distancing device rather than a necessity for a story about a fading opera singer, but even though it may be an affectation, it presents little difficulty for following the opera. However, Wainwright's over-reliance on recitative to carry scenes tends to dull the musical interest, and fills a lot of space between arias, which are the main reason to hear this work. The sound of the recording is generally clear and focused in the foreground, so the vocals come across quite clearly, though the orchestra is somewhat recessed and not all details are fully audible.
Words: Blair Sanderson