Rufus Wainwright is not your typical musician. Apart from having a voice that is evocative, sultry, sweet, luscious, and classically iconic, he is one of the most eclectically capable musicians around. His repertoire ranges from the baroque pop of Want One and Want Two to his own opera, Prima Donna, which is composed entirely in French, and an adaptation of nine Shakespearean sonnets in song.
But Wainwright's approach to the work is what makes him stand out. He is a musician's musician, the type of artist who cares more about music than publicity, whose recordings show an appreciation for his craft and not overproduction.
His tour, which includes a stop at the Adrienne Arsht Center Friday, February 9, marks his first visit to Miami in nearly ten years, a warm respite that he more than welcomes. "I’ve been to Miami several times, but I’ve only performed there a couple of times and I think it was quite a while ago," Wainwright says. "So it’s good to kind of bridge that gap at the moment. I’m really excited to come back down."
Much has changed for the 44-year-old troubadour in the past ten years. He has staged his first opera and completed his second, Hadrian, which will premiere in Toronto later this year. He has also married his partner, Jörn Weisbrodt, and had a daughter with Lorca Cohen, whose father was another Montreal native and legend in the pantheon of great troubadour poets, the late Leonard Cohen. And Wainwright has released four studio albums as well as several live albums and compilations.
So where does he see himself going next? "This year is the 20th anniversary of the release of my first album, so I’m definitely in a more contemplative state," he says. "I think the title of my last album, Out of the Game, was really more tongue-in-cheek, and I am in a position now with this next record that I’m about to make to really try to make a statement that is current and relatable but also profound."
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That combination of profundity and accessibility is exactly what makes Wainwright's music so special and singular. There are songs on Out of the Game, such as "Montauk," that are deeply personal and honest. Written with his distinctly wry sense of humor and readily identifiable sense of integrity, they make it abundantly clear he's wholly capable of continuing to define himself as one of the great singer-songwriters of his generation.
"Well, back in the day — I know this is probably politically incorrect to say, but they did call me this back in the '90s — I was the 'Great White Hope,' whatever that means," Wainwright recalls. "Now I would say I’m more the 'Great Gray Hope' considering my beard and how it’s changed. I definitely have a sense of duty, and I’m up to the task." That task is one he describes as offering realness and love and understanding in a time when our country and world are in turmoil. "And a bit of intelligence," he adds, a quality that seems to be less and less important in today's music.
He hopes to achieve a sort of completion with his next project, something that will reflect the perspective he's gained over the years. "I’m definitely trying to work on a sort of bookend to my mainstream career," Wainwright says. "I’d like to make an album that really solidifies my legacy as a singer-songwriter and a lover of the troubadour existence."
Rufus Wainwright. 8 p.m. Friday, February 9, at the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $39 to $89 via arshtcenter.org.