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Baker's Dozen

Want 13: Rufus Wainwright's Favourite Music
Barnaby Smith , March 11th, 2020 13:32

Ahead of the release of his new album Rufus Wainwright guides Barnaby Smith through his favourite music, from Leonard Cohen to Eurythmics and his abiding love of opera


The Threepenny Opera (with Lotte Lenya)
Lotte Lenya was in the first performance of The Threepenny Opera in 1928, but also featured on the 1954 recording. Is that the one you are referring to?

Yes, that's the one. I know both recordings, and the movie too, but I think the one I listened to mostly was the later one. In a lot of ways Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, and this piece in particular, represent what I'd ultimately like to do as an artist: bringing opera together with popular music; classical singing with everyday life. I've written a couple of operas, I've worked with Shakespeare's sonnets, I've made pop records, and I have this folk background, and I feel that Kurt Weill with The Threepenny Opera was the pinnacle where all of the elements that he was influenced by joined together to create this other animal. Lotte Lenya was the one who interpreted that. It's a really good touchstone to keep in mind in terms of what I do in the pop world and the theatre world.

And it has a strong political message. Did that resonate with you too?

Oh yeah: the political message, the decadence and the poetry. It's a perfect moment in the history of art. Obviously I'm a huge opera fan, and I'd love to write the new Tristan and Isolde or Aida, but in reality I think probably what is needed is the new Threepenny Opera, considering the way the world is now.

It's also seen as an attempt to reframe opera as not just for the elite or the aristocracy, as something for 'the people'. Do you connect with that side of it at all?

It's not something I necessarily feel compelled to accomplish. But that said, I have realised of late that it would be great to combine all of my knowledge into one approachable force that all people can relate to.