A sneak sample of Rufus Wainwright’s new opera

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The opera talker of the summer, Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Prima Donna’ is set to open today at the Manchester International Festival. The new piece is Wainwright’s first stab at the operatic form and will be performed entirely in French, to boot.

Precious little of the score has been revealed publicly, but a video of Wainwright performing an aria from ‘Prima Donna’ has been circulating on YouTube. Recorded during a concert in France, the video shows the Canadian pop star introducing (in French) the aria, titled ‘Le feu d’artifice t’appelle’ (‘The fireworks are calling you’) and performing the number as he accompanies himself on the piano.


Wainwright messes up a few times during the performance, which starts on the video after his two-minute introduction/explanation.

‘Prima Donna’ follows a day in the life of Canadian soprano Regine Saint Laurent, who is holed up in her Paris apartment, uncertain if she wants to make her big career comeback after six years away from the stage. The opera will star Janis Kelly in the lead role and will also feature Jonathan Summers, Rebecca Bottone and William Joyner. The production is directed by Daniel Kramer and will be conducted by Pierre-Andre Valade.

Wainwright’s opera comes with its own controversial back story. The work was originally supposed to premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but the company’s director Peter Gelb balked at the composer’s insistence that the opera be performed in French as opposed to English.

You can learn more about the opera on the official Manchester International Festival website. In a video interview with the festival, Wainwright says that the opera ‘is sort of my homage ... to the operatic form. It’s been important to me since the age of 14.’

-- David Ng