Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright brings acclaimed voice to 2 shows

Contributing writerOctober 25, 2013 

Rufus Wainwright’s South Sound shows will be opened by his half sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche.

ERIC CHARBONNEAU/INVISION FOR SHOWTIME

A man of many genres Genre-bending comes naturally to Rufus Wainwright, who is coming to the South Sound next week for shows in Olympia and Tacoma.

It makes sense: The singer-songwriter and composer is the son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, and as a teenager, he fell in love with opera.

In a recent phone interview, Rufus Wainwright talked about his past, his inspirations and the project of which he’s proudest.

Q: Since music was the family business, did you ever consider another career?

A: No. It was pretty set from the get-go. I sang all the time and was prancing around in aprons and stuff, and trying to put on plays constantly in the hallway of the house. Certainly, show business was destined to take its toll down the line. There really wasn’t anything else.

Q: How did you parents feel about their children going into the music business? (Wainwright’s sister, Martha Wainwright, and half sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche, are musicians.)

A: My parents were on one hand very successful — they were highly respected and highly acknowledged and really cherished by the industry — but on the other hand, they didn’t reach the dramatic heights of some other popular acts at the time.

I always thought that was somewhat of a blessing. They were in it for the music. ... They weren’t jaded. They weren’t really damaged by show business, which I think really only happens when you get extremely famous. They were very positive about the experience. It was a lot harder, they made a lot less money, but they were happier. That’s the environment I grew up in.

Q: What are you working on currently? Do you have a new album in the works?

A: I’m working on another opera. It’s important to me to keep plugging away at that art form. I have songs for some Hollywood movies that I’ve been topping off. I’ve been co-writing a lot with people, and in fact, I just co-wrote the title track to Robbie Williams’ new album coming out called “Swings Both Ways.” I did that with Guy Chambers. (Wainwright also performs on the track.)

I’m doing anything but making a new record for a while. I’ve just been so out there for the last few years. I need to regroup and reprocess.

Q: How did you become interested in opera?

A: I became a staunch opera fanatic when I was about 14 years old. It really corresponded to a lot of the angst I was going through at that time, especially considering that I am gay and also that AIDS was so ever-present. The world was a pretty scary place. Opera really spoke to what I was going through. It just stuck.

I’ve gone back to it time and time again just to feel my yearning, and it never seems to falter. I feel like I owe opera a lot of my time, and that’s what it takes in order to write one.

Q: Will you be singing any opera in your concerts here?

A: I do sometimes sing a couple of arias from my last opera, “Prima Donna,” most notably the Fireworks aria, which was on “Songs for Lulu.” I don’t really differentiate my own material from opera. I really consider my songs to be equally as related to arias as they are to pop ballads.

I don’t know if I’ll sing any arias there. I really keep my cards close to my chest, mostly because I don’t know what I’m going to do at all until the day of the show. It really depends on what’s happening in the world and how I react to it.

Q: You’ve done so many varied projects, from a concert and album recreating Judy Garland’s most acclaimed concert to film scores and beyond. What project makes you the most proud?

A: Having written my last opera was a huge deal. And recently, Martha and I put out an amazing album and film called “Singing the Songs That Say I Love You.” It’s us, along with Emmylou Harris and Jimmy Fallon and Norah Jones and the whole family singing my mother’s material.

It’s an incredible album and movie, and I’m very proud of what Martha and I have done in terms of my mother’s legacy. She was one of the great songwriters of her time. It’s really important for us to further her work. I’m very proud of that project.

Q: Is there anything else you want to talk about?

A: I’m always thrilled to play in the Pacific Northwest. It really is one of the most enchanted and creative spots on the planet. If I didn’t have a beautiful beach house in Montauk (N.Y.), I’d probably live somewhere out there on the beach. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Rufus Wainwright

What: Singer-songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright brings his dramatic flair and operatic voice to the South Sound. His half sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche, opens.

In Tacoma

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma

Tickets: $86 and $66

More information: 253-591-5894 or broadwaycenter.org

In Olympia

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $48-$72 adults; $43-$65 for students, seniors and military; $24-$36 for youths

For information: 360-753-8586 or washingtoncenter.org

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