Rufus Wainwright funds his opera recording by selling the shirt off his back

He had the piece, the players, the tour dates, but not the cash. Call wardrobe...
  • @adamsherwin10

Rufus Wainwright's wardrobe is renowned for some exotic made-to-measure creations, as befits the flamboyant singer. But now he is offering fans the suit off his back, so that he can give his first opera the opulent recording it deserves.

Prima Donna, the story of an ageing opera singer anxiously preparing for her comeback in Seventies Paris, was received with acclaim when Wainwright premiered it at Manchester International Festival in 2009. The singer says he now wants to "fulfil a powerful desire of mine – to properly record my first opera, with a fabulous orchestra, and release a double CD and vinyl of that recording" before a world concert tour.

Unfortunately, Wainwright, 41, whose oeuvre extends from lush chamber pop to jazz, has been unable to find a financial backer for the project.

"Quality studio opera recordings are extremely expensive and too time consuming to pull off these days, and it seems that a once-vibrant recording industry is no longer what it was," he explains

Undeterred, he has launched an appeal on the crowd-funding website PledgeMusic to help raise what is believed to be a "six-figure" dollar sum for the recording.

Wainwright has raided his wardrobe as an incentive for his bigger-spending fans. Top of the range is the bespoke suit by Dutch designers Viktor & Rolf which Wainwright wears on the cover of his best-of album, Vibrate. Available for £1,500, it is listed with its sizes: "Jacket: European men's 46, Pants: European men's 46."

A sparkly Moschino suit, which the singer wore to perform at the Grammy Museum in 2012, is going for £1,050. An outrageous orange-and-white polka-dotoutfit, custom made by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and worn during a Prima Donna performance, is a snip at £900.

If wearing or simply owning Wainwright's clothes isn't enough, the chance to join him on stage and sing "Hallelujah" as part of a "glorious choir" is available for just £60 – but the concerts are in Australia and travel isn't included.

Even those who merely sign up to receive for £9 a download of the album, recorded with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, will receive regular web updates of the recording process. Wainwright wrote on the pledge site: "Though sad, the upside is that everyone in the field agrees that this is a great time to bring the audience into the wonders of the creative process and the myriad of stages the recording of an opera requires."

Wainwright is in good company, joining Abba, Van Morrison, Weezer and Interpol among established artists who have embraced PledgeMusic's "direct-to-fan" model. Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, PledgeMusic launched almost 1,000 projects last year, with 91 per cent achieving their cash target. The average amount spent per pledge is £36, but transactions of more than £140 account for 30 per cent of PledgeMusic's revenues.

Benji Rogers, PledgeMusic's founder, said: "We started it to create a way for artists and fans to connect and ended up with a music community like no other. It has been amazing to watch this idea come to life and to be accepted by the music industry, from major and independent labels to unsigned and emerging artists."

Wainwright, whose sister Martha also funded a solo album via PledgeMusic, is continuing to offer his clothes for sale, despite exceeding his initial target. He is donating 5 per cent of money raised to a foundation set up in honour of his mother, the folk singer Kate McGarrigle, who died of cancer in 2010.