“It’s not Tommy, is it?” —Loudon Wainwright III, on his son’s first opera, Prima Donna, from the Sundance Channel documentary Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna

Whether you’re an ardent fan of singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, like I am, or you just have a passing interest in his music, it will probably come as no surprise that he’s written a full-fledged classical opera.

Prima Donna centers on an aging opera singer who falls in love with a journalist while preparing for her comeback in 1970s Paris. It premiered in July in England as part of the Manchester International Festival at the Palace Theatre, and will have its North American premiere at the 2010 Luminato festival in Toronto. Tonight at 9 PM EST the Sundance Channel airs a documentary titled, appropriately enough, Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna, about the musician and his most ambitious project to date.

Directed by George Scott, the film gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Prima Donna — workshops, rehearsals, opening night, etc. — chronicling Wainwright’s life and career in the process.

Through candid interviews with his friends, boyfriend, and musician-filled family (parents Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, sister Martha Wainwright, and aunt Anna McGarrigle), as well as performance clips and rare family home videos, we learn about Wainwright’s eccentric childhood, his inspirations, his battles with addiction, and, perhaps most importantly, his obsession with opera, which he calls “my religion and saving grace.”

We learn more about Prima Donna and its creation through interviews with Wainwright; his co-librettist and longtime friend Bernadette Colomine; the opera’s director, Daniel Kramer; the conductor, Pierre-AndrÁ© Valade; and its star, British soprano Janis Kelly. Famed soprano RenÁ©e Fleming gives viewers insight into the world of modern opera and discusses how Wainwright’s talent and vision could be a breath of fresh air for an art form that’s considered “historical.”

I really enjoyed Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna, and I think that fans of the artist, not to mention fans of opera, will appreciate this look at the challenge of creating an opera, especially when the writer not only hasn’t written one before, but he comes from the pop world — or, as Fleming puts it, “the wrong world.” Will Wainwright pen another one? According to Kramer, he “can, should, will, and must do a second opera.”

To coincide with Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna‘s airing on the Sundance Channel, Popdose has a Prima Donna prize pack to give away. One lucky winner will receive two signed posters and an autographed program from the production’s Manchester International Festival premiere, plus a Sundance Channel tote bag.

Just send an e-mail with your first and last name and the subject line “Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna” to Kelly Stitzel by 7 PM EST on Wednesday, December 23. A winner will be randomly chosen at that time.

About the Author

Kelly Stitzel

After shutting down her own blog, Looking at Them, in mid-2008, Kelly migrated over to Popdose, bringing with her Soundtrack Saturday, the most popular column from her old site. Kelly makes a living as a fashion and marketing copywriter, which takes up a lot of her time. However, when she is able to write about things that have nothing to do with her day job, she contributes reviews and musings on music, film and a variety of other topics. In addition to Soundtrack Saturday, columns she's written include Filminism and Pulling Rank.

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