First Manchester International Festival Opens with 'Monkey Opera'

Classic Arts News   First Manchester International Festival Opens with 'Monkey Opera'
The inaugural edition of the Manchester International Festival — which is billing itself as "the world's first international festival of original, new work" — kicks off today with a "monkey opera" composed by Britpop singer Damon Albarn.

Monkey: Journey to the West, based on an ancient Chinese legend, is described as "a circus opera for the 21st century." It will feature more than 40 Chinese circus acrobats, vocalists and martial artists.

The staging is by Chen Shi-Zheng, who shot to fame with his production of the traditional Chinese opera The Peony Pavilion and has since directed works ranging from a staging of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 to the Hollywood movie Dark Matter (starring Meryl Streep) to operas by Wagner, Mozart and Purcell. Designs, animation and costumes are by Jamie Hewlett, Albarn's collaborator in the virtual band Gorillaz. The opera, a co-commission with the Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet (Paris) and the Berlin Staatsoper, will be sung in Mandarin.

Among other highlights of the MIF, the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic will give the first performance of an orchestral suite commissioned from William Orbit, the record producer who has worked with U2, Sting and Madonna.

The Hall_, Manchester's other orchestra, will premiere a new score commissioned from Victoria Borisova-Ollas, a Russian composer now living in Sweden. The 75-minute work for large orchestra, two singers and narrator is based on Salman Rushdie's novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet and will be accompanied by a silent film directed by Mike Figgis (Internal Affairs, Leaving Las Vegas). Hall_ chief conductor Mark Elder described the work to The Guardian as "a music theatre piece for the concert hall."

The ballet dancer Carlos Acosta, who won an Olivier Award this year for his work with Sadler's Wells in London, comes to Manchester to present the world premiere of his Tocororo Suite, with 18 dancers and a live Cuban band.

A new theater piece called The Pianist, based on the memoirs of the Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (which inspired the Roman Polanski film of the same name), will be performed by Mikhail Rudy and a narrator reading Szpilman's original text. British theatre director Neil Bartlett helms the staging; the performances will take place in a circa 1830 warehouse near Manchester's main railway station.

London's Daily Telegraph quotes Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, as saying about the Ô£9 million festival — which offers no conventional concerts, plays or operas — "We didn't want to do a sort of Edinburgh pastiche, which is what a typical arts festival wants to be. We wanted to be something that is uniquely Manchester. It's not about competing with Edinburgh or anything else, it's about doing something different."

MIF director Alex Poots (a veteran, as it happens, of the Edinburgh International Festival as well as of English National Opera) told The Guardian, "We have so many festivals in this country. Do we really need another? We should create a new program rather than ape other festivals."

The Manchester International Festival, which features 25 specially commissioned productions, performances and projects offered across the city, runs through July 15. More information is available at

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