Those three Shakespearian sonnets featured on Rufus Wainwright 's new album, "All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu," will not be the end of his interest in the bard's musical poems.
Wainwright tells Billboard.com that he's writing a song cycle featuring five of the sonnets -- the three on "All Days..." plus two others -- that he plans to debut this fall with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. "I'm orchestrating them myself," reports Wainwright, whose interest in Shakespeare was stoked when playwright/director Robert Wilson asked him to write music for his 2009 production "Sonette," which premiered in Berlin.
"I knew a little bit about the sonnets, but I'd never immersed myself in them before, and I really did for this project," Wainwright explains. "Once you dip into that stream you're pretty much rushed down the river by the beauty of it all. There is an innate musicality within the vowels and the consonants and the spaces and so forth. My life changed after the sonnet, so I thought it was necessary to present that new addition to my lexicon."
Wainwright recorded versions of sonnets 10, 20 and 43 for "All Days...," which also includes nine original compositions. All of the songs are performed by Wainwright accompanying himself on piano rather than lush arrangements that have marked most of his other work. He says that approach was most effective for intensely personal nature of the song cycle, part of which was inspired by his late mother Kate McGarrigle's struggle with sarcoma and her death in January.
"This album is a product of my reaction to the various momentous occasions I was experiencing," Wainwright notes, "whether it was my mother's health or the opera ('Prima Donna') or the Judy (Garland) show or my touring. I was really drawn to the piano, the main reason being that it was where I could be alone and I could sort of tell everybody to skidaddle, and these songs started to come. It was a way for me to exorcise or sacrifice music to this great hurt and wounded and volatile part of myself; instead of perhaps going out and doing it at the bar, I decided to do it as music."
Wainwright will present "All Days..." in a new solo show that kicks off April 11 in Southhampton, England, and tours Europe until early June. A North American tour will follow, with some Canadian dates already announced for June. Meanwhile, Wainwright is also shepherding the rollout of the "Prima Donna" opera, which opens April 12 in London and moves to Toronto on June 14. "A lot of negotiation is going on" for U.S. engagements as well, and Wainwright says he's gratified by the interest, especially in light of mixed reviews.
"People seem to want to make their own choice or decision about it because there is such a wide variety of points of view," he says. "Some classical people are very, very upset with it, some classical people think it's the best thing ever. It's an interesting disparity. As usual, I'm a dividing force."
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