Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Wainwright's first opera to get world premiere in UK

Jonathan Brown,Arifa Akbar
Friday 20 March 2009 01:00 GMT

An opera by the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright is to have its world debut in Manchester after being turned down by the New York Met. The Canadian's first foray into the world of opera, Prima Donna, was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but was not performed after Wainwright refused to change the libretto from French to English.

Instead it will be performed at the second Manchester International Festival as one of its highlights, alongside a collaboration between the Mercury Prize winners Elbow and the Hallé Orchestra, and the first-ever full-length concert featuring Lou Reed and his new wife, Laurie Anderson.

Wainwright has spent the past year writing and orchestrating the piece, which will be performed in two acts at Manchester's Palace Theatre, which is set to be the new northern home of the Royal Opera House.

It tells the story of a faded operatic soprano about to return to the stage after a six-year lay-off. Speaking at the launch yesterday, Wainwright said he hoped to reach new audiences with the work. "Opera seems to have been hijacked by intellectual elements," he said. "For a long time I wanted to make it a little less intellectual and have more emotional engagement. You have to remember it was a populous form, like the bandstand of its time."

He said of the Met's decision to pull out: "When I started writing the opera it was in French and it takes place in Paris. It made sense – I was brought up in Montreal and I can speak French. The music started to reflect the language. But the Met wanted to commission an American work."

Manchester's Bridgewater Hall will play host to two local heroes – Bury's Elbow and Britain's oldest professional symphony orchestra, the Hallé, performing songs from the band's back catalogue. Elbow's Guy Garvey said he was thrilled at the prospect of playing alongside the orchestra to create a "love letter" to the city. "I've been going to the Hallé since I was a kid. They are the original Manchester band, and this is a dream come true," he said.

Fellow Mercury Prize winners Antony and the Johnsons will also be giving their material the full orchestral treatment when they team up with the 35-piece Manchester Camerata to perform songs from their new album, The Crying Light, at the Opera House.

The minimalist Steve Reich is also scheduled to appear alongside Kraftwerk at the Manchester Velodrome for the opening concert. The German electro-pop pioneers are promising a two-hour retrospective from their 40-year career, as well as a new work by Reich. The recently-married Reed returns to the festival, this time with Anderson, for the British premier of The Yellow Pony and other Stories and Songs combining music and tales.

Bringing it closer to home will be the Durutti Column, performing A Paean to Wilson – a tribute to the Factory Records founder, Tony Wilson. The band were the first to sign to the massively influential label and have since gone on to create 30 studio albums. The festival's director, Alex Poots, said: "We've tried to give our artists room to breathe, encouraging them to explore new ways of working within their fields and beyond. Manchester has long thrived on invention, innovation and radical thought, and MIF aspires to be part of that tradition."

The festival runs from 2-19 July - Find out more at

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in