The Rolling Stone Blog

Rufus Wainwright Reviving his Family’s Annual Christmas Concert

The Rolling Stone Blog

A Not So Silent Night, the McGarrigle/Wainwright family's annual
Christmas show, will return this December after a two-year hiatus
prompted by matriarch Kate McGarrigle's illness and eventual death last
year. The shows, which will take place at the Theatre St. Dennis in
Montreal on December 11th and at Town Hall in Manhattan on December
15th, will feature holiday-themed performances by members of the musical
family including Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Anna McGarrigle
and Loud Wainwright. Rolling Stone caught up with Rufus to chat about the show, as well as the Brooklyn premiere of his opera Prima Donna and his forthcoming pop album with producer Mark Ronson.

How many years have you been doing this Christmas show with your family?
did it for several years about four years ago, with my mother, Kate
McGarrigle. And that was all fine and dandy, and then, unfortunately she
passed away and we needed to take a two year hiatus just to get the
spirit back. We're a little cheerier now, and so we're bringing them

A lot of these shows are improvised to some extent. How do you all prepare for that?
try to keep them loose as possible, meaning a couple of days of
rehearsal before the event, and we kind of wait until then to see what
happens, and in pure Wainwright/McGarrigle fashion, no night is
identical in any way. So it's more like a living room jamboree than a
Radio City Rockettes thing.

Do you seek out new songs to perform?
basically stick with what's good, and part of that is looking for the
old favorites and also looking for some new material or even writing new
material. But we don't discriminate between genres and eras and
religion and so forth. We just want a good melody, and there is so much
to choose from, in terms of the Christmas catalog. Every year it

What is your personal taste in Christmas music?
God, I don't know, because I'm a Judy Garland-loving, gay, lapsed Catholic, un-baptized, circumcised person! [Laughs]
So I love them all. You know, I'm a classical music buff, so you can't
help but to adore the liturgical music, like Handel and Mozart, or Bach.
But then, on the other hand, I like a good show tune as well. And most
argue that the best songs are actually written by Jews, which is very
interesting. Irving Berlin, especially - "White Christmas" - so, I don't
know. It's hard to say.

Was this part of your family tradition, before you started doing these public performances?
always sang a lot in our home in general, up in Canada. You know, we're
from Montreal - basically, Santa Claus keeps an apartment there. It's
pretty Christmas-y. We've always had a lot of good music in the house
all throughout the year. But honestly, there's something about walking
outdoors and there's pine trees and a foot of snow that drives sort of a
Christmas aesthetic.

Are you and your family particularly religious? Or is it more of a secular sort of celebration?
I mean I never go to church. I'm not baptized or anything. I'm not
against religion, necessarily. It's secular mostly. We're not afraid to
make references to Baby Jesus.

You have have an opera, Prima Donna, that's about to open in New York.
that's premiering in February at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It's
very, very exciting - it's part of the New York City Opera season. The
opera was supposed to be here years ago, and it had to kind of travel
the world,in order to return home. So it's a homecoming of that work.

Opera has always been kind of my ace in the hole. I was converted to
the form when I was a teenager. So I always had that in the background.
But I didn't want to be a classic musician, necessarily. So I just sort
of take those influences and infused them into my songwriting. But I
knew, down the line, that I'd want to return back to that form, as sort
of musical sacrifice for all the beauty that it's given me over the
years. I've hopefully done that with Prima Donna.

When did you know it was the right time to take on the opera?
been thinking of an idea for a long time. And I was actually expecting
it to be a much later kind of conquest in my life. I thought maybe my
fifties or something. As it is with many theatrical endeavors, this
story just fell in my lap - of the day in the life of an opera singer -
and these characters just instantly, miraculously appeared in my
imagination, and needed to come to life. I think a lot of playwrights or
opera writers - you're sort of summoned by the work itself. It's not
really you that goes out looking for it.

So what are you working on right now?
I'm in the studio with Mark Ronson and we are working on my new album
in Brooklyn here with the Dap Kings. It's exciting. I'm making an
actual pop record - it's been awhile since I've done that. I think that
what's always great about Mark is that he's especially good with dealing
with singers, and in making them come to the forefront and pulling them
whatever they need. But I also, I've made albums over the years too,
and I know what to bring as well. So it should be interesting; so far,
it's been a really fantastic thing. And were both really in our prime -
in terms of being in our thirties, and we've had certain successes. We
can enjoy each other's company and each other's processes and it's just a
lot of fun.


Photo by Ross Halfin

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