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NYC Opera presents US premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s “Prima Donna”

New York City Opera presents the US premiere of Prima Donna, the first opera by Juno Award-winning, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, on February 19-25 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music‘s Howard Gilman Opera House. A meditation on the fine line between fame and failure, the Dora Award-winning Prima Donna is “a love song to opera, soaked in the perennial operatic themes of loss, betrayal, delusion and nostalgia, and saturated in the musical styles of opera’s golden age,” according to The Times of London. The New York Times declared, “There are inspired touches and disarmingly beautiful passages in this mysterious, stylistically eclectic work.” This production by celebrated director Tim Albery, underwritten by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, has already thrilled audiences at Sadler’s Wells in London and Toronto’s Luminato Festival. The opera, set in Paris in 1970, features a French libretto written by the Canadian-American Wainwright and Bernadette Colomine. Rising-star soprano Melody Moore sings the tour-de-force role of a once-acclaimed diva haunted by her past success and her present reality as she seeks to return to the spotlight. Prima Donna will be the second of two New York City Opera productions at BAM this season; a new Jonathan Miller production of Verdi’s La traviata opens the company’s new season a week earlier.
Talking about his lifelong love affair with opera, from Massenet to Wagner to Verdi, and his path to creating Prima Donna, Wainwright told the UK’s Guardian: “Since I was 14 years old, I have been converted to the dark religion of opera. I’ll even be dramatic about it: It has saved my life, guiding me through some pretty tough junctures.” For years, the composer searched for an operatic subject “that wasn’t a saga involving a chorus and insane costumes.” Finally, “a story fell into my lap, after 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. Opera is one of the last bastions where you can investigate big emotions and romanticism; and opera singers themselves are tied into that sensibility because they inhabit that universe.” Describing the opera’s story, Interview magazine said: “Utterly contemporary in spirit, Prima Donna is about building and crushing egos, with relevant parallels to our schadenfreude-crazed tabloid culture.” But Wainwright described the drama of the opera as concerned with “the subtle shifts of a woman’s heart, the grave consequences of little actions,” and he characterized the music as “extremely romantic and melodious.”
Melody Moore, praised highly last season for her performances in New York City Opera’s production of Séance on a Wet Afternoon, plays the titular diva Régine Saint Laurent. She is joined in the cast by soprano Rebecca Bottone (Marie), baritone Randal Turner (Philippe), and tenor Taylor Stayton (André le Tourneur), all making their New York City Opera debuts. Sets and costume design are by debut artist Antony McDonald, with lighting by Thomas C. Hase, also in his company debut. Returning to New York City Opera to conduct is Jayce Ogren. Prima Donna – which had its world premiere in 2009 at Manchester, England’s Palace Theatre – was co-commissioned by the Manchester International Festival; Sadler’s Wells; Luminato: Toronto Festival of Arts and Creativity; and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival. Prima Donna won a 2011 Dora Award for Outstanding New Musical/Opera.
New York City Opera previewed its 2011-12 season and celebrated the coming production of Prima Donna by presenting Who Are You New York?: The Songs of Rufus Wainwright in November at the Rose Theater of Jazz at Lincoln Center. A lineup of opera singers interpreted Wainwright’s song cycle All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, followed by Wainwright himself singing compositions from his songbook along with other numbers he has performed in his already-illustrious career. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times judged the Wainwright concert “a big success … a rewarding concert, and a first promise fulfilled.”
George Steel, general director and artistic director of New York City Opera, says: “New York City Opera couldn’t be more delighted to be joining forces with distinguished artist Rufus Wainwright in presenting his first opera to New York audiences. The production of Prima Donna is a clear example of New York City Opera’s longstanding commitment to bring new repertoire to our main stage and open opera to the widest possible audience.”
Tickets for Prima Donna and other productions in New York City Opera’s 2011-2012 season can be purchased by phone at (212) 870-5600 or online at
About Rufus Wainwright
Affectionately referred to by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet” and praised by the New York Times for his “genuine originality,” Rufus Wainwright has established himself as one of the great male vocalists and songwriters of his generation. The son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle and the brother of singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright, Rufus has achieved his success by carving out his own singular sound in the worlds of rock, opera, theater, dance, and film.
Wainwright has received Juno Awards for Best Alternative Album in 1999 and 2002 for Rufus Wainwright and Poses, respectively, and Juno nominations for his albums Want Two (2005) and Release The Stars (2008). He was nominated for Songwriter of the Year in 2008 for Release The Stars, which went Gold in Canada and the UK. He composed the original music for choreographer Stephen Petronio’s work BLOOM, which has toured widely. His concert album, Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall, was nominated for a Grammy Award and released concurrently with a live DVD (Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! Does Judy! Judy! Judy!) that captured his celebrated Judy Garland tribute performance at the London Palladium in 2007. He composed a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s sonnets for director Robert Wilson that premiered with the Berliner Ensemble in April 2009; he was commissioned to orchestrate five numbers from this Shakespearean work for a song cycle premiered by the San Francisco Symphony in 2010.
Wainwright has released eight albums and three DVDs to date, and his songs have appeared on numerous soundtracks and compilations. He has collaborated with such artists as Elton John, David Byrne, Rosanne Cash, Pet Shop Boys, and Keane. Wainwright’s most recent live pop album was a recording from his Release The Stars tour, titled Milwaukee At Last!!! His latest album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, and a career-spanning boxed set, House of Rufus, was released in summer 2011. Wainwright has recorded a studio pop album produced by Mark Ronson, titled Out Of The Game, due for release worldwide in spring 2012.
Prima Donna
Feb 19, 1:30 p.m.
Feb 21, 7:30 p.m.
Feb 23, 7: 30 p.m.
Feb 25, 7:30 p.m.
Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, New York
Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes. Performed in French with English supertitles.
NYCO subscriptions and tickets
Subscriptions and single tickets for New York City Opera’s 2011-2012 season can be purchased by phone at (212) 870-5600 or online at
For further information about “Prima Donna” and other 2011-12 New York City Opera productions, contact Glenn Petry, 21C Media Group, [email protected], (212) 625-2038.
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© 21C Media Group, December 2011

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