A Woman’s Face (Sonnet 20)

Canadian-American singer/songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright is best known, at least by me, for his indie pop and rock music (and, of course, his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which appears on the soundtrack to the movie Shrek). In 2016, he released an album of compositions based on William Shakespeare’s sonnets, Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets

The collection features several well-known performers, including Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher, Martha Wainwright (his sister), and others. Australian lyric soprano Anna Prohaska sings a classical version of “A Woman’s Face (Sonnet 20).” Wainwright performs a reprise version of it, singing and playing piano with a backing band, and has also played it singing with piano.

“A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.”

(“Sonnet 20,” by William Shakespeare)

There’s a belief that the poet is addressing the piece it to a young man, and Wainwright’s video of “A Woman’s Face – Reprise (Sonnet 20)” goes with that interpretation.

It’s a lovely piece, and I have enjoyed the three versions I’ve found, so I am sharing all of them today.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Since it’s classical Sunday, I’ll start with Anna Prohaska, soprano, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted on the album by Jayce Ogren and Susanna Stranders. This audio is from the Anna Prohaska YouTube (topic) channel

Plus, here is Wainwright’s solo piano/voice version of the piece, directed by Jonathan X:

And finally, Rufus Wainwright’s video for “A Woman’s Face – Reprise (Sonnet 20)”: 

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