In the past couple of years, Rufus Wainwright has found himself exploring the past. His latest album put William Shakespeare sonnets to music, he’s working on an opera based on the life of the Roman emperor Hadrian, and, on Thursday and Friday, he’s remounting his production of “Rufus Does Judy,” the album-length rendition of Judy Garland’s “Judy at Carnegie Hall.”
With the tumult of today, “can you blame me?“ he says, with a chuckle.
amNewYork caught up with Wainwright in late May to talk about remounting his decade-old interpretation of Garland’s classic live album and finding joy while living through a difficult time in the world.
What’s the difference between the version of you who put this show on in 2006 and the one who will put it on in 2016?
There are so many — the birth of my first child, the death of my mother, my marriage to my husband. These are the pinnacles of one’s adult life. And what’s great is that these songs are really built to absorb these big moments that humanity has to offer, and they become prisms, in terms of what you will give to them emotionally ... [M]ost of them are constructed by songwriters and lyricists, rather than performers. They’re built to be versatile. You can sing them in so many different styles and in so many different ways, and they will translate.
What is it that moves you right now, that you find fascinates you?
I went to see “A Streetcar Named Desire” with Gillian Anderson, and there’s one line in it that I’ve now taken on as my motto for this period in my life. It’s when Blanche says, “I don’t want reality. I want magic.” That’s what I want. I want to change the world and to leave it better for future generations, but in truth? What I really want? To be dazzled.
Where does one get the motivation to find that “dazzle”?
Enjoying the present. Enjoying what you have. I think a lot of it has to do with my mother’s death. We were so close. There were two big messages: Create gratitude, be grateful for the life I’ve had. But also, enjoy every moment, because it’s gone in a flash.