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. This production by celebrated director Tim Albery, underwritten by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation played 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."
Melody Moore, performed 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.