Rufus Wainwright to take up Royal Opera House residency

'All the crowned heads of Europe will be getting on Eurostar,' jokes singer as he prepares for summer concert series

Rufus Wainwright, no stranger to the lyric stage since the premiere of his opera Prima Donna at last year's Manchester international festival, is to be the first pop artist to take up residency at what he called the "distant and implacable fortress" that is the Royal Opera House.

Though the Royal Opera House has in the past hosted such artists as Björk, Sting and Elton John for one-off events, Wainwright is the first to tackle a week-long series of concerts at the London venue.

The five evenings next July – under the banner House of Rufus: Five Nights of Velvet, Glamour and Guilt – will include two evenings of his show Rufus Does Judy!, his restaging of Judy Garland's 1961 comeback concert; an evening performing with his father Loudon; another with his sister Martha; and finally, a concert version of Prima Donna starring soprano Janis Kelly, followed by Wainwright performing some of his own solo work.

"Though I'm in the pop world, I have been a secret, or not so secret, opera addict for many years," said Wainwright. "I remember coming for the first time to the Royal Opera House as a teenager when my father was living in London. The Metropolitan Opera or the Royal Opera House always seemed such a distant and implacable fortress and I was this tiny, insignificant spectator. I have never lost that sense of awe with this establishment. But I am not going to be too reverent. We'll have fun and enjoy the space."

The five evenings – which he originally wanted to call The Rufus Cycle as a skit on Wagner's Ring – will be Wainwright's only European dates for 2011. "All the crowned heads of Europe I am sure will be getting on Eurostar," said Wainwright.

His love of opera had begun, said Wainwright, when his mother – "not a huge opera fan but someone who followed the great tenors" – played him a recording of Verdi's Requiem as a teenager, with Jussi Björling and Leontyne Price. "At the end of that I was a bona fide opera fanatic," he said. He is now a regular at the Bayreuth festival "and I know the Wagner family quite well".

The relationship with the Royal Opera House was, he said, "organic for both the opera and pop world, the former perhaps needing more audience and the latter more content". He called the opera house "a bastion that any singer would want to perform in".

Wainwright said that he is eager to pursue new ideas for full-scale operatic works, despite a lukewarm critical reception for Prima Donna. "I have been approached by many opera houses, but I haven't decided on anything yet," he said. He was still in friendly contact with the Metropolitan Opera, New York, which initially commissioned Prima Donna but then withdrew. He was considering a work with "big choruses, ballets, ancient history – something to really piss the critics off. Think Les Troyens," he said, referring to Berlioz's epic two-part opera based on Virgil's Aeneid.

Tickets for the five Rufus Wainwright evenings, which begin on 18 July 2011, will range from £25 to £100 – more than twice as expensive at the bottom end, and about a third cheaper at the top end, than the seat prices for opera.


Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

The GuardianTramp

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