“I moved from New York to Montreal when I was three and didn’t return to the U.S. until I was twenty-three, so I lived in Quebec for most of my formative years. Montreal has always had a tremendous bohemian culture, but when I was a kid the city was economically run-down and desolate—a bit of a no-man’s-land. Hardly anyone was working, living was cheap; there was nothing to do but create. At the time, I was surrounded by incredible influences: Leonard Cohen was around, and of course my mother, Kate McGarrigle, is a singer. During those years this close-knit community planted the seeds for what has since become one of the hippest and most vibrant cities in the world, especially when it comes to songwriting and music.
I feel very lucky to have grown up in Montreal. I went to a French school, and the European education meant that I was distanced from American culture without being too far away. I often compare the city to Berlin, in the sense that it’s divided—there’s a French side and an English side. This mix of traditions adds so much richness and diversity. In Montreal there’s an amazing artistic frisson that just permeates the sidewalks.”
Wainwright’s first opera, Prima Donna, is having its world premiere at the Manchester International Festival on July 10.
“Old Montreal is very picturesque, with the Vieux-Port next to the St. Lawrence River. Just walking around, you can see layers of history—there are buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.”
“Cafés, beer gardens, and cappuccino shops line St.-Denis Street, in the French Plateau neighborhood. Ask for a table on the shaded patio at Café Santropol (lunch for two $22) and order a bowl of vegetarian chili and a hearty sandwich.”
“From May to September, check out Les Tam Tams (Mont-Royal Park), a Sunday drum festival. For another outdoor activity, visit the Montreal Botanical Gardens , in the east end. The Chinese garden is known for its magnolias and azaleas.”
“If you want a taste of the live music scene, La Sala Rossa is the place to go. Try to catch a performance by the Mittenstrings, an up-and-coming Montreal phenomenon.”