By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated December 19, 2019 at 11:32 PM EST

Plenty of ambitious stars have created rock operas for the stage. But how many pop musicians can claim to have written an actual, full-fledged, no-qualifier-necessary opera all by their lonesome — with lyrics in another language, no less? Leave it to Rufus Wainwright, whose French opera Prima Donna will premiere at the Manchester International Festival this July after three long years spent composing it. “One of my favorite things that I like to say now is that I relate a lot to Mozart,” Rufus quips when the Music Mix catches up with him last night at a New York City press conference for the U.K. cultural festival. “Not so much in terms of the genius factor, more in terms of the dead factor. It’s so, so laborious and time-consuming and emotionally draining. You can’t skimp on the work, whether it’s the first violin part or the heartstrings.” Click through to the jump for more on Prima Donna, Rufus’ other upcoming projects, and his iPod rotation.

Rufus is currently putting the last finishing touches on Prima Donna, whose plot revolves around a troubled soprano in theParis of 1970. Aside from enlisting co-librettistBernadette Colomine to keep his French grammar in order, he’s handled every aspect of the composition himself. Though Prima Donna will be the first opera Rufus has completed, it is not, in fact, his first attempt at the form. “Iwrote one act of an opera when I was about 16 years old,” he says. “Itwas based on some weird trip that I had on marijuana in the woods. Idid it in one swoop, then burnt it.”

So far, he’s more pleased with his work this time around. Still,don’t hold your breath for the consummate performer to sing the partshe’s written any time soon. “This one is for opera singers. They’ve got to be able to sing over the 70-piece orchestra, so I can’tdo that. But I’ll always want to sing. And now, after writing an opera,I’m much more interested in writing a musical,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s far morelucrative!”

In addition to writing some new pop songs in his spare time (“constantly, as a recreation”) and enjoying listening to recent releases by Joan as Policewoman and Antony and the Johnsons, Rufus has been busy collaborating with Robert Wilson on a play based on Shakespeare’s sonnets, which will premiere in Berlin this Easter. “My favorite sonnet is ‘A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,’” Rufus says. “And ‘When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see’ is a good one. ‘For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any…’ And Sonnet 29, which I had already written a song to. You know, I’m always doing something. I’m pretty prolific.”