Wainwright commissioned for new opera

Singer Rufus Wainwright has been commissioned to compose his debut opera, to be premiered in the UK, it was announced today.

Manchester International Festival, which shows new, original work, has commissioned Prima Donna for its 2009 event.

It follows the festival's much-lauded premiere in 2007 of Monkey: Journey to the West, which saw another popular music act turn to opera - Gorillaz.

The work was composed by Damon Albarn and designed by Jamie Hewlett.

A portrait of a fading opera singer, Prima Donna is set in Paris and sung in French.

"Rufus Wainwright has an exceptional gift for melody and clearly has a deep affinity with opera," said festival director Alex Poots.

"We're delighted to be working with him as he moves into this new form."

Prima Donna will feature the soprano Janis Kelly, taking the lead role Madame, soprano Rebecca Bottone, tenor William Joyner and baritone Jonathan Summers.

Wainwright, who already has several albums of melodic pop songs under his belt, will not be performing in the opera itself.

Wainwright told The Guardian he had been inspired by watching an interview with Maria Callas.

"The opera is not about her, but it is about the persona of an opera star; it is the day in the life of an opera singer," he told the newspaper.

"Opera is one of the last bastions where you can investigate big emotions and romanticism..."

Prima Donna is produced in partnership with Opera North whose orchestra will be performing.

There will be five performances of Prima Donna at Manchester's Palace Theatre on 10, 14, 17 July (evening) and 12 and 19 July (matinee).

Tickets go on sale at noon tomorrow online via www.mif.co.uk and by phone on 0844 815 4960, priced at £12.50 to £47.50.

Other festival commissions will include Everybody Loves a Winner at Manchester's Royal Exchange.

The theatre will become a bingo hall, with added music, dancing - and possibly a chance to win some cash.

And Zaha Hadid Architects will create a "unique" environment within Manchester Art Gallery for Bach's solo works.

Manchester International Festival 2009 will run from 2 to 19 July .

The entire biennial festival programme will be announced next March.