Flamboyant Rufus has musical plans on an operatic scale

Rufus Wainwright tells Katie Masters why he s planning to hang up his microphone, stop touring and write his own opera Rufus Wainwright has always had a keen eye for the theatrical. To perform his Judy Garland songs – released last year on the album Ru

Rufus Wainwright tells Katie Masters why he's planning to hang up his microphone, stop touring and write his own opera

Rufus Wainwright has always had a keen eye for the theatrical. To perform his Judy Garland songs - released last year on the album Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall - he donned red lipstick and stilettos. For the cover shot of his 2004 album, Want Two, he dressed as a pre-Raphelite version of The Lady of Shallott. What Tennyson would have made of the incarnation is anybody's guess.

But now it seems Wainwright, who was in Hampstead to perform at the open-air Kenwood concerts at the weekend, is set to embrace theatre in a more literal sense.

"At this end of this year, beginning of next, I'm going to stop touring and write an opera. I'm also going to work with the director Robert Wilson. We're creating a play based on Shakespeare's sonnets."

This is the man who has been called the most extraordinary singer-songwriter of his generation. His critically-acclaimed music has run the gamut from operatic prayers to desire-soaked ballads, encompassing everything from big orchestral sound to the syncopated melodies of ragtime. Whether it's opera, folk, rock or pop, it's there in his work, underpinning his distinctive, lyrical vocals.

"All types of music, all genres, bow down to the troubadour, to the singer-songwriter, to the little guy on the corner just singing for a buck."

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But the reason the troubadour is moving on is all down to collapsing record sales.

"Records in general - not just mine. It's a disaster. But I've always been one to adapt and turn adversity into a frock. So I'm shifting all my energies into theatre."

Wainwright's long-term relationship with his arts administrator boyfriend, Jörn Weisbrodt, may also be playing a part in this decision. Prior to Jörn, Wainwright describes himself as a "dandyish boulevardier, free and open to everyone". The free and open lifestyle choices, which included an amphetamine addiction that led to him going temporarily blind, provided much of the material for his songs. These days, there's less drama.

"When you're in a relationship you're not seeking out disaster as much, you're not wanting new tastes and flavours every week. It's a shift. It's more about cultivating than sowing. And for a songwriter that does pose its problems. But when you're working in the theatre you really get your mind in the heads of these other characters and therefore you can live through them."

Wainwright is quick to say that his move doesn't mean he's leaving behind his songwriting entirely. It's more, he suggests, that his work will be fuelled less by the ups and downs of tempestuous emotion and more by his responses to the world around him.

"I still write songs. They still come out of me. And the world is still a dramatic place, especially with all that's at stake in the presidential election. There is no reason for the Republicans to win. Whether it's the military or the economy or the reputation, there's not one thing they can call a victory. It's all been destroyed."

"It took me a little bit of time to support Obama because I was a gay Hillary boy. I still admire her ferocity, but I'm more moved by him. There's a great expression where someone said of a Roman philosopher, whose name I've forgotten, so-and-so made us think, but Cicero made us march. I think Obama has that quality. He makes you act."

In fact, Rufus says he is so emotionally caught up in the election that it will affect what he sings at his Kenwood performance on Saturday.

"I'm going to do a whole selection of songs from all my albums, everything except Judy. But the ones I choose depend on the day, how my voice is and how the election is going. I'm extremely affected by it. I truly believe that with McCain you're looking at the end and with Obama it's a new beginning. I've never been more excited or hopeful for American politics in my entire life.