Entertainment

Rufus Wainwright's 1st opera to open in Manchester

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright will see his first opera open Friday at the Manchester International Festival.

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright will see his first opera open Friday at the Manchester International Festival.

Prima Donna is the story of an aging soprano in 1970s Paris who is worrying about her future.

"It's a day in the life of a fading opera diva who is debating whether to continue her career as a singer. It's not at all based on me," Wainwright said of the show in an interview on the festival website.

"It draws from a lot of different sources, like Maria Callas, Sunset Boulevard or the movie Diva from the '80s, or the real lives of opera singers," he added.

Though Wainwright prepared for the production by studying the life of Maria Callas, he said it is in no way about the opera star.

Wainwright, known for his Want albums and Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall, has been an opera fan for more than 20 years.

When he began work on Prima Donna, it was a commission of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

But Wainwright decided to write it in French; he is bilingual after spending much of his youth in Montreal.

"I just wanted the language to fit perfectly with the music," he said.

That didn't sit well with the Met, which wanted an English-language opera. Wainwright also chafed at the Met's production schedule, which would have meant years before the opera was mounted.

They parted ways and the Manchester International Festival agreed to mount Prima Donna, with five performances planned under the direction of  Daniel Kramer.

Janis Kelly will sing the lead role, with Johnathan Summers and members of Opera North.

The transition from writing pop songs to writing a sustained piece of work like an opera has not been easy, he told BBC.

"No matter how trained or how knowledgeable or fit you are, it's always gonna take every little ounce of your being to do. And there's no easy way around it. But that's the point of opera —it's a full body experience," Wainwright said. The show is scheduled to be mounted in Toronto at the 2010 Luminato festival.

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