By Liam Prost
CALGARY — The last time Rufus Wainwright graced the streets of Calgary for 2014’s Calgary Folk Fest at Prince’s Island Park, you might have been distracted from his effortless croon by the blare of a few fire engines clearing up a smoking food truck. Such is the nature of festivals, where legendary artists like Wainwright have to compete with food, beer gardens, other artists, and any other contingencies that result from a crowded outdoor space. Although not in Calgary, Wainwright has even experienced a fist fight or two during a festival set. To make it up to you, Rufus Wainwright is coming back in the biggest way he can: at Jack Singer Concert Hall in Arts Commons and backed up by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO).
“I’ve never been one to shy away from the big bang,” Wainwright says of his decision to bring in accompaniment from an orchestra. “My audience is pretty advanced,” he says, “I’ve put them through the ringer.”
But one cannot help but detect a tinge of modesty. While Wainwright’s catalogue and career are incredibly diverse, his music is also relentlessly beautiful and accessible at every intersection. Wainwright himself admits that his “material is very conducive to that,” in reference to the orchestra. His melancholy delivery almost cries out for the most expensive pianos to fill out his ballads, even if the lyrics themselves have a sharper edge. If you are a CPO fan and have not heard Wainwright’s music, he himself admits that “there might be a bit of an ambush.”
Some of Wainwright’s best-known material such as “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” and “Vibrate” deal heavily with the iconography of the proletariat, but coloured through the lens of Wainwright’s more high-class sensibilities. Wainwright relates this to his “virulent, budding sexuality.” Wainwright “knew that [he] was gay and liked sex” and was “decadent by nature” from a very young age, which led him to a fascination with the opera.
In a fulfilment of his Oscar Wildest childhood dreams, Wainwright even wrote and produced his own opera in 2009, a period piece about an aging opera singer who falls in love with a journalist entitled Primma Donna. More recently, Wainwright has been touring Primma Donna as a film, backed up by Wainwright himself. While this is not the show he will be bringing to Calgary, he will sprinkle at least one aria from Primma Donna into the set.
Wainwright is currently penning another opera, but still has not abandoned his singer-songwriter origins. As the new opera material comes together, he is also collecting some ancillary ideas and plans to head back into the studio soon. For fans of his material as Rufus Wainwright, it has been a long few years since the brilliant, Mark Ronson produced Out of the Game (2012), and Wainwright knows that a few of his fans are waiting for him to return to the “five and dime.” For now, we have a beautiful show to look forward to with Calgary’s prestigious Philharmonic Orchestra.
CORRECTION: Rufus Wainwright performs at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary on January 13th and at the Myer Horowitz Theatre in Edmonton on January 14th.