Pop star composer Rufus Wainwright is finally poised to unveil his original operatic score in the New York City Opera’s production of “Prima Donna,” which will open at BAM on Feb. 19. Set in Paris in 1970, “Prima Donna” tells the story of Regine Saint Laurent, an aging opera singer, played by acclaimed vocalist Melody Moore, trying to come to terms with her past and future, her successes and her failures.
“This story is both sad and triumphant and melodramatic and all the things you want opera to be,” Moore said. “There’s so much honor in it; it’s about self-discovery, late in life.”
Both Wainwright and Moore explained that while opera gets a bad rap, seeming boring, inaccessible and antiquated, “Prima Donna” is quite the opposite.
“It’s totally live: no mic’s, no lip synching, every evening is different,” Wainwright said. “One bad trumpet player can instantly screw it all up, so its very exciting in that way. A lot of the time it’s more akin to a football game, other times it’s the most sensitive flower on earth.”
“Opera doesn’t have to be stodgy,” Moore added, “it just needs to be given a chance.”
“Prima Donna” premiered in 2009 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, England, and BAM’s presentation of the opera marks its American debut. And although Wainwright is widely known as a soft-crooning Canuck with a pentient for film soundtracks (he’s recorded music for movies including “Brokeback Mountain,” “Shrek” and “Zoolander,” among many others), he’s always had a love for opera.
“I’ve been an opera addict since age 13,” Wainwright wrote in an email. “My mom used to give me $100 when I would visit my dad in NYC and I’d go straight down, spend $75 on an opera ticket and the rest of the weekend eating soba noodles. To write one has always been my greatest dream — and now my dream has come true!”
“Prima Donna” at BAM [30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Place and St. Felix Street in Fort Greene, (718) 636-4100]. Feb. 23-29, 7:30 pm, $25. For info, visit www.bam.org.