Looking back, and forward, with Rufus Wainwright at Belly Up Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Rufus Wainwright will perform Saturday night at Belly Up.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

Who: Rufus Wainwright

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Saturday, Jan. 2, 7 p.m.

How much: $55-$95

Tickets: Belly Up box office;

More info: Wainwright’s early show will be followed by a 10 p.m. performance by electronic music duo Knife Party. Tickets are $75-$115.

Rufus Wainwright is at a musical turning point.

The singer-songwriter, who returns to Belly Up for a solo performance tonight said the 2014 release of the greatest-hits album, “Vibrate,” and his recent entrenchment in the classical-music world has prepared him to dive back into making the kind of ambitious pop songs that brought him both critical acclaim and a global audience.

“I’m at an interesting juncture right now,” Wainwright, 42, said in a recent phone interview. “Because I put out ‘Vibrate,’ I put out my first opera, I’m working on my next opera and I’ve created this chasm at the moment that’s waiting to be filled with a whole new repertoire of popular songs.”

His Aspen performance, with Wainwright on piano and guitar, will be a look back over his career, much like “Vibrate” is. He views such performances, and choosing songs for the album, as less a career capstone than as a workshop for what’s to come.

“Being able to listen to the best-of, and monitor where the best sound came from, what my most interesting periods were, has given me guidance for the future, he said.

Since his self-titled 1998 debut, Wainwright has penned modern classics like “Poses” and “Going to a Town,” but after five pop albums he turned toward his first musical love: opera. He first entrenched himself in the form, he said, at 13. His opera “Prima Donna” debuted in 2009 and was revived last year (excerpts also were performed at the 2014 Aspen Music Festival). A second opera, “Hadrian,” is slated to debut in Toronto in 2018. His most recent pop-oriented effort was the 2012 album “Out of the Game.”

“It’s been great to have a break from making records, setting up a tour, then making another record,” he said. “It’s a slog. So after doing the best-of and the classical work, I’m going to be really hungry and on fire for my next pop work.”

Writing classical music versus pop songs come from entirely different parts of his brain, Wainwright said.

“When you’re doing pop music you have to have one eye on what other people are doing, what an audience can relate to, to a degree, and whether you want to go sing these songs every night for three years,” he said.

His shows have become a semiannual tradition at Belly Up around New Year over the past decade. The performance is the centerpiece of a ski trip with his husband of five years, a German-born “crazy ski fanatic,” in Wainwright’s words.

“Doing the show in Aspen at Belly Up has become one of the guiding lights of my marriage,” he said.