Profession: Artistic director of Luminato
Hometown: Hamburg, Germany
The car: 2010 Mini Cooper convertible
- Studied opera directing at the Hanns Eisler music conservatory in Berlin
- Previous posts include executive director of RW Work Ltd., director of the Watermill Centre, artistic production director at the German opera company Staatsoper Unter den Linden, co-founder of Zwischenpalastnutzung and assistant director at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin
Seventh annual Luminato Festival June 14–23
Jorn Weisbrodt has worked at some of the most prestigious organizations around the world including LaScala di Milano, the Bolshoi Theatre, the Lincoln Centre Festival and the Manchester International Festival. Now, he’s the artistic director of the Luminato Festival in Toronto.
The annual arts and culture festival runs from June 14 to 23 this year.
Weisbrodt divides his time between Toronto and New York with his partner, acclaimed singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. In New York, they drive a 2010 Mini Cooper convertible.
Why did you buy a Mini convertible?
We wanted to get a small car. We got it when we were living in Manhattan and it doesn’t really make sense to have a big car in Manhattan because there’s so little space.
We were first looking at a Prius because we also wanted to be environmentally responsible, but I don’t fit into a Prius. I’m 6-foot-5 and my head was bumping up against the ceiling.
We’ve always loved Minis. I think they’re the most beautiful, small compact car. I come from Germany – everyone’s first car is a VW Golf, which I never got into that shape. I don’t understand why people liked it. I always liked the elegance of a Mini and when it was bought by BMW, they brought out this new version, which is quite a bit larger than the original one.
In the original one, the seats were so low, but the great thing about this Mini is the seats are still low so I actually have a lot of head space in that car. My husband, Rufus – my partner back then – he had an older version, a 2000 Mini that he had bought with his mom and, when she passed away, we brought that car down to Manhattan. We still have it, but it’s not running properly any more.
It’s amazing to have a convertible! I’ve never had a convertible in my life. I’ve always dreamed of having one. And having one in the summer, at our place in Montauk, with the roof down is just wonderful.
It’s pretty sporty, too, because it’s such a small car. The engine is pretty strong and it doesn’t use that much gas, either. It’s the perfect little car. I love my car! It’s a sports version and we have it in British racing green. And it’s actually a shift – it’s not automatic. We both love a shift.
What don’t you like about it?
It doesn’t have a big enough trunk because it is a convertible, but since you can open the roof you can put big and clunky objects in the back. We’ve bought sculptures, chairs, garden equipment, and plants – we’ve had all of that inside.
What does a Mini Cooper convertible say about you?
I like to get the maximum out of the minimum.
When driving together, who takes the wheel, you or Rufus?
It really depends. Sometimes I do all of the driving; sometimes he does all of the driving. It really is both of us. We don’t have a routine.
I like driving short distances. By myself, I do enjoy driving long distances because it really gives you time to think. It frees up your thoughts. I’ve had some of the greatest ideas – which probably aren’t that great – while driving.
What do you guys listen to on the road?
We always listen to opera. We have satellite radio in it as well and we always listen to the Metropolitan Opera Radio Station – that’s a must.
You don’t listen to Rufus’ music?
We do. But Rufus is not that keen on listening to his stuff so much. If it comes up on shuffle, we will listen to it, but he’s not the fiercest self-listener.
Do you guys sing at the wheel?
I sing and then he gets annoyed.
He’s not necessarily a car singer – he sings a lot at home. He usually gets up, gets a coffee, and sits down at the piano and sings.
What’s your best driving memory?
The most beautiful drive we did is driving up Highway No. 1 in California, from downtown Los Angeles to Big Sur. That’s just an out of the world drive.
What’s your worst driving memory?
My parents only had Mercedes and I trashed one pretty badly.
When I moved from Hamburg to Berlin, I had all my stuff packed up and I was going to pick up the keys to my apartment, and then at 5 o’clock I was going to the State Opera House at Berlin. I left at 8 in the morning and, after about two hours, I totalled the car.
I got on the middle strip and lost control of the car. It was an empty highway. I went over the side of the highway and I spun over three times. I saw the car rolling very slowly and every thing – my entire move – was splattered across a farmer’s field.
I remember looking out of a window and I saw washing detergent spread all over the field. I was thinking – ‘Oh no! Now, I’ve polluted this whole field.’ Someone stopped and gave me a cellphone and I called my parents. My mom was freaking out. My dad was like, ‘I’m glad you’re fine. Get it towed and I’m going to send someone to pick you up.’ After three hours that person arrived. He asked, ‘Do you want to go to your parents or to Berlin?’ I want to go to Berlin. So I picked up the key to the apartment at 4 o’clock with all my dirty stuff and I thought I might as well go to the opera, so I took the subway and went to the opera.
I remember all the windows were broken and the roof was damaged as well, but the cage of the passenger area was still completely intact. With another car, it would have been pretty traumatic.
Do you prefer driving in Germany or North America?
Driving in Germany is so much denser – there’s a lot more happening.
There’s also long stretches on the autobahn where you don’t have a speed limit. Everyone envies Germany for that. It still does exist, which is great. And it doesn’t cause more accidents, either.
It’s pretty hard to get your licence in Germany. You have to have 20 hours of lessons with driving instructors. To get a licence its quite expensive, too. It’s usually an 18th birthday present from your parents – it was for me as well. Then you have to go through at least 10 2-1/2-hours of evening sessions on driving rules and then the actual driving exam is 45 minutes in the city, parking, rear parking, start driving on a slope, and on the autobahn. It’s a long, long test and if you screw up, you don’t get your licence.
I think people are much better trained at driving before they’re actually given a licence in Germany than in North America.
Did you pass on the first try?
I did and then I got a licence in the U.S. as well.
This interview has been edited and condensed.