Damon Albarn Prepares New Elizabethan Opera

Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn

Anyone who still thought that former Blur frontman Damon Albarn was just a showboating mockney popinjay – and bumptious to boot – is probably going to have to give in to the overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary, if not now, then soon.

Just look at his workload in the past 10 years: the final Blur album, three Gorillaz albums, a solo album of home demos, countless excursions across Africa, bringing the best talent back to perform with UK musicians in his Africa Express concerts, an opera based on the Chinese legends of a monkey god, a triumphant Blur reunion tour and Glastonbury headline slot, a Blur 7″ single, a Gorillaz tour and Glastonbury headline slot, a fourth Gorillaz album (coming next month) and now another entire opera.

In the same space of time, Oasis have effectively made and toured four albums, and then split up, and then reformed without Noel. On, and Liam went to see the Spongebob Squarepants movie.

Damon’s new opera, Doctor Dee, is set to premiere in June, at Manchester’s International Festival, before moving down to London’s Coliseum next year, as part of the city’s Cultural Olympiad.

The production is based on the life of John Dee, who was Queen Elizabeth I’s scientific advisor, specializing in medicine, and his reputation as an alchemist, astrologer, and spy. Which makes it a kind of cross between Harry Potter and James Bond, in ruffs, and set to music. Amazing.

Having originally started the project with comic book sage Alan Moore (he wrote, among other things, Watchmen, From Hell and V for Vendetta), Damon went on to finish it alone, and plans to take a major role in the production too. It will be directed by Rufus Norris, the Tony-nominated director who revived Don Giovanni for the English National Opera last year, and brought Les Liaisons Dangereuses to Broadway in 2008.

Manchester International Festival director Alex Poots told BBC News: “It will be a big, spectacular show. I know that Damon’s passionate about it and he’s already written some incredibly beautiful songs, some anthemic songs.”

And that’s on top of the beautiful and anthemic songs he wrote when he was ‘just’ a pop star.

Is Damon a preposterous prodigy or a ridiculous show-off? Tell us here.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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