Rufus Wainwright’s ambitious new project, “Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets” (Deutsche Grammophon), has its roots on Long Island.
The Watermill Center’s Robert Wilson asked Wainwright, who now makes his home in Montauk, to compose music for his “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” production. After hearing what Wainwright accomplished, the San Francisco Symphony commissioned him to orchestrate five sonnets.
For “Take All My Loves,” Wainwright tackles nine of Shakespeare’s sonnets — often twice, once musically and once dramatically.
The album’s brilliance shines brightest when Wainwright finds a way to take the sonnets and turn them into bold pop music.
On “Unperfect Actor (Sonnet 23),” the piece builds from Helena Bonham Carter reciting the sonnet over a gathering storm of piano and strings to an all-out rock explosion of guitar riffs, and Wainwright, his sister Martha and Fiora Cutler trading vocals about rage. Florence Welch turns “When in Disgrace With Fortune and Men’s Eyes (Sonnet 29)” into a charming folk ballad that makes the most of the power and sweetness in Welch’s voice. The six-minute-plus epic “Take All My Loves (Sonnet 40)” is a gripping piece of theater, as Marius de Vries delivers a powerful reading of the sonnet, while Wainwright builds a lush world of sound around it, including a dance groove and what sounds like a ringing phone to raise the urgency.
For the bulk of “Take All My Loves,” Wainwright takes a back seat to Anna Prohaska, the noted Austrian soprano, who brings his operatic compositions to life. She is thrilling in “For Shame,” where her dramatic vocals create soaring angst. But at times, the fire isn’t quite there. And though Carrie Fisher and William Shatner deliver some powerful recitations, “Take All My Loves” would feel more fulfilling if Wainwright’s distinctive voice, well-suited for rapid emotional swings, was more involved.