Release Date: Apr 22, 2016
Record label: DG Deutsche Grammophon
Genre(s): Classical, Vocal, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Chamber Pop, Classical Crossover, Vocal Music
Not the singer/songwriter's first foray into Shakespeare, Rufus Wainwright's Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets offers an ambitious mix of accompanied readings, opera, and chamber pop to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death (its release date falls a day early). Three of the included sonnets appeared on Wainwright's 2010 LP All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu but are rearranged and newly recorded here. Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher, Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine, and, most frequently, opera singer Anna Prohaska are among several celebrated guests on the 16-track set, which provides two interpretations of most of the poems.
Rufus Wainwright has always had a knack for weaving together technicolour dreamscapes and Willy Wonka-esque funhouse worlds, and this latest album, Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets puts his penchant for the theatrical front and centre. Each track features Shakespearean sonnets (some sonnets appear in more than one track), spoken and sung by Hollywood personalities like Carrie Fisher, William Shatner, Siân Phillips and Helena Bonham Carter, classical singers Anna Prohaska and Fiora Cutler, pop singers Frally Hynes and Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine) and Wainwright's sister, Martha Wainwright. Lush orchestration brings the poetry to life, as does the incredible sound quality Deutsche Grammophon is famous for.
It’s hard to imagine how someone whose last album was an opera could out-do themselves, but Rufus Wainwright has achieved just that with Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, to be released via Deutsche Gramophon on April 22, 400 years after William Shakespeare’s death. Wainwright has a history with the Bard’s sonnets: The San Francisco Symphony commissioned Wainwright to orchestrate five sonnets, and the singer-songwriter also composed music for playwright and director Robert Wilson’s Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Wainwright’s 2010 album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, included three of these, including “A Woman’s Face”.
Rufus Wainwright’s latest recording is a smart and engaging encapsulation of his 2009 collaboration with Robert Wilson, Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The original production premiered on Easter Sunday, 2009, at the Berliner Ensemble, the theatre established by Bertold Brecht. It ran nearly 3 hours long, included 24 of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and featured its many actors in cross-dress, men portraying women and vice-versa.
Rufus Wainwright has chosen to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in characteristically flamboyant style. He’s plucked nine of the Bard’s 154 sonnets, a host of guest stars and the BBC Symphony Orchestra for an album of adaptations of varying formats and styles. Like his opera Prima Donna, it’s another example of him creeping further away from the singer-songwriter format of records like Want One and Want Two.
A few years ago, Rufus Wainwright mused publicly about shifting his focus further from pop towards opera and more esoteric musical projects. His newest record revisits a side project from 2009, setting a collection of Shakespearean sonnets to largely classical accompaniments, supported by guests including Florence Welch and soprano Anna Prohaska. It’s an engaging idea, sumptuously arranged and with a puckish wit on the classical cabaret of All Dessen Müd.
Never let it be said that Rufus Wainwright takes the more commercially palatable path. The man whose last album was a re-recording of his (rather tepidly received) opera Prima Donna is back and he’s gone all theatrical again. To celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday – this album is released the day before the official anniversary – Wainwright has revisited an idea he dipped into for his All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, and based an entire album on the sonnets of the Bard.
One of the more unexpected tributes to Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death is provided here by actor William Shatner, who hams up Sonnet 129 before soprano Anna Prohaska trills the poem to a nouveaux-classical accompaniment. Take All My Loves is an uneasy marriage of classical and pop, on which the sonnets are often overwhelmed by Wainwright’s extravagantly theatrical arrangements. It has come to something when Florence Welch, who sings the waltz-time When in Disgrace With Fortune and Men’s Eyes (Sonnet 29), is called upon to provide nuance and subtlety.
With their rigid length, rhyme scheme, and cadence, Shakespeare’s sonnets are fundamentally unsuited to the pop song format. That’s the challenge Rufus Wainwright faced when writing tunes for nine of them, and the difficulty may have prompted him to pick the path of least resistance by composing quasi-classical backdrops against which Anna Prohaska’s coloratura soprano flutters. Save for the playfully tempestuous “Th’Expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame (Sonnet 129),” they’re serviceable and, like the spoken-word reprises by the likes of William Shatner and Siân Phillips, take few risks.