As Luminato’s recently installed creative director, his job is to attract exciting artistic talent and put his mark on an arts festival that has struggled with a bit of an identity crisis. We caught up with Hamburg-born Jorn Weisbrodt at Luminato HQ to talk opera, reality TV, and why his summer wedding to Rufus Wainwright won’t involve dressing like a bad guy from Batman.
You took artistic control of Luminato late this winter. Does that mean that most of this year’s programming was already in place?
Most of the bigger shows were. I’ve done a lot of side programming to complement what was already lined up. For example, with the Beethoven marathon by Stewart Goodyear, we’re going to have a performance artist on stage performing but creating almost sculptural images. We also installed a special camera that will project a close-up of the keyboard so the audience can see that. We have a German artist, Jorinde Voigt, who is working on a series of drawings based on all 32 Beethoven sonatas, which we’ll be showing at the ROM. And then we’ve invited Antonio Damasio, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, to give a talk on music and the brain.
What about programming for future years? Who would you absolutely love to bring here?
I’d love to do something with Arcade Fire. They’re already so theatrical and I’d love to create a larger performance-based work with them, or just find out what they might like to do.
Is there a secret to working with big artistic egos? I gather you’re something of a master wooer.
Certainly, a big part of my job is running after the artists that I really want to work with. I think the key is really to respect what the artists want to do and accommodate their ideas while secretly guiding them. And then you have to know how to hide your own ego. A lot of artistic directors really want to push their own agendas, which is not me. I’m happiest sitting in the second row.
I noticed that Luminato’s three-night run of Einstein on the Beach—the famed collaboration between Philip Glass and Robert Wilson—still hasn’t sold out, despite the fact that it’s regarded on the international scene as a modern masterpiece. Are you surprised?
I am. The show is opera in its purest form and it’s really an overwhelmingly beautiful experience. It sold out in London, where there were eight performances, and we only have three here.
So what does that say about Toronto audiences?
Maybe that people here are a little bit afraid of new things, but I don’t think that [not selling out] is a reason not to do something.
So if you could have one minute in the living room of every Torontonian, telling them why they need to see this opera, what would you say?
It’s really one of the most important artworks of the 20th century, up there with Andy Warhol’s Marilyn paintings or Picasso’s Guernica. I have never met anyone who has seen it and thought, “Meh, nice, but not really my thing.” It’s a piece that you feel strongly about. You cry, you have goose bumps. It’s just sheer beauty and it will transform your life.
Okay, I’m convinced. Now I’m curious to know if you have any secret lowbrow delights. Are you a reality-TV junkie?
Oh, yes, I love all the real-estate shows on HGTV, like Love It Or List It. It’s great because those shows are on pretty much 24 hours a day, so I can watch regardless of what time I get home.
You’ve lived and worked in some of the more amazing cities in the world. What do you love about living in Toronto and what irks you?
I love our neighbourhood. It’s so nice to wake up and hear birds chirping. In New York, we’d hear traffic and police cars. We decided on the Annex because we really wanted to have a house and we have a little backyard. I’m very traditional that way. My favourite restaurant is The Harbord Room. The food is great and also the patio. In terms of what’s missing, I still need to find a good shoemaker and also a hairdresser. I really think I need a haircut before the festival.
When you say our apartment, you’re talking about your fiancé, Rufus Wainwright. Were you a fan before you guys got together?
Years ago, I had an affair with a man who gave me one of Rufus’s albums. I took it home with me and didn’t listen to it for a long time. Rufus and I had a mutual friend. She’d always talk to me about him, to the point that I was almost getting annoyed, like “Okay, okay.” And then one day I went to put on a CD and I saw this album. I put it on and I was instantly taken by his music.
Did you say, “That’s the man I’m going to marry”?
No, I didn’t say that. At the time, I was working with Jonathan Safran Foer and I had just read his novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and really loved it. I wanted to turn it into something theatrical and musical, and I thought of Rufus because his work has that sort of childlike, drifting quality. I had the mutual friend set up a dinner in Berlin. I was really impressed by him professionally, but there was no thought that he could be my boyfriend at that time. The project never worked out. We couldn’t have gotten the rights to the book because the movie was already in the works.
Seems like something else was in the works as well.
Ha. Yes, well it all worked out.
You guys are getting married this summer after Luminato. Isn’t co-ordinating an arts festival and a wedding at the same time a cause for a nervous breakdown?
Rufus’s assistant has been wonderful in terms of the groundwork, and also his Aunt Teddy has been helping us keep up with the things that need to be done. I’m pretty good with multitasking.
I know Rufus is famous for his flamboyant fashion sense. Have you guys had much discussion around wedding-day attire?
Of course. Viktor and Rolf [co-founders of the Amsterdam fashion house] are friends of ours, so we asked them and they were immediately on the case. I thought they might propose something like split outfits where one half is the black suit and one half is the wedding dress.
You mean like Two-Face from Batman?
Yes, sort of. They didn’t go in that direction, though, so we’ll see what they come up with.
Rufus said in an interview that he wasn’t a huge gay-marriage supporter until he met you.
I think it’s just that as you get older, you start to realize that you want someone to share your life with. And he has a daughter now with Lorca Cohen, and he wants to include me in the experience. At his core, Rufus is a complete family animal.
And how are you being included in the experience?
I’m being called the deputy dad, and we do consider her our daughter. Viva lives with her mother in Los Angeles and Paris, but we try to see her as much as possible.
Okay, last question. I noticed you were sporting a very thick moustache a couple of years ago. Any chance that will be making a comeback?
That was actually something that Rufus imposed on me for the premier of his opera, Prima Donna, in Manchester. He wanted me to be dressed up as Puccini and him as Verdi, so he grew a long beard and I grew this moustache.
I think you ended up looking more like Tom Selleck.
Yeah, it was more of a bad ’70s porn ’stache. It’s true.
Mozart or Beethoven?
Bieber or Drake?
Most beautiful city in the world?
My toy monkey, Jokey.
Tarzan, always appropriately dressed for the jungle.
Favourite ice-cream flavour?
Favourite children’s book?
We Children From Bahnhof Zoo.
Luminato runs June 8–17. Ticket info at luminato.com.