'Socially distanced Venetian gondolas!' – Rufus Wainwright on his dream festival

With festival season cancelled, we’re starting a new series asking stars for their dream lineups. First up is Rufus Wainwright, blending opera and Florence Welch


I am a big fan of Venice and my husband and I have spent quite a bit of time there. Even when it’s teeming with tourists – which it won’t be now – I find it gloriously enthralling, so my festival would simply have to be there. Everyone would ride gondolas so we’d all be socially distanced and there would be a beautiful band show on one of the islands. It would be kinda like going to a drive-in, but a boat-in.

The headline act

I have often wondered about why most festivals don’t have a wider variety of acts, because I’ve always had a penchant for different universes of music. In vaudevillian times they might have a magic act followed by a comedian. Some years ago, there was an act of a Wagner opera performed at Glastonbury [by the English National Opera in 2004], and I like the idea of mixing opera with rock and pop. Opera is as much about what’s going on in the audience as what’s going onstage – historically, people would hang out at the opera house to enjoy the intrigue and scandal. So instead of the usual short break where people go and buy a sausage roll, it would be fun to have a whole opera like Tosca interspersed between each act.

For my headliners, Florence + the Machine would fit well with the opera. Florence Welch isn’t just a fantastic performer, she also has an operatic flair. I saw her once at the Hollywood Bowl and it was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen in my life. I was blown away.

Five more acts

Things would start early in the morning with the first act of Tosca, delivered by the Teatro La Fenice. After the first act we’d have a folk acoustic set, then Martha Wainwright. Watching my sister is a triple-edged sword. On one hand I’m overwhelmed by love – she’s probably my closest relative and we started off performing together. The singer in me can be competitive, but I’m a big fan and it’s nice to just sit down and enjoy her music as a fellow human being. Father John Misty would be next because I’d be looking for performers who really know how to command a stage. Björk is almost creating her own opera-like existence with art and costumes. She’s highly influenced by the sorcery of the stage and she herself is kind of a legendary operatic character. As the day goes on, Perfume Genius would be a perfect sunset artist. He’s very playful and humorous, which is not as common as one might think. By now, people are pretty inebriated and ready to let loose, so I’d bring out the DJs, maybe Mark Ronson and Kid Koala. There would be serious lifeboats in case anyone fell off their boat. I like legacy acts so Neil Young would be fun. Sigur Rós. Oh and Lizzo … and Beyoncé! It’s my dream festival, right? So money is no object.

The non-musical activity

I envisage a one-day event – you’re not going to spend a weekend on a gondola. But it would be good if people could swim. I imagine the water is a lot cleaner now, because of lockdown.

The food

I’m not sure a stand would work with gondolas, but being in Italy you would have the most amazing Italian food shuttled over to the boats. So I’d imagine an elaborate breakfast, lunch and dinner, pasta and ravioli, all washed down with wine during the opera sections. A true Italian food fest!

• Rufus Wainwright’s new album Unfollow the Rules is released on 10 July on BMG


Interview by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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