Manchester International Festival

The biennial Manchester International Festival is nothing if not ambitious. While other cultural festivals rely, at least in part, on the comforts of familiarity, MIF was designed as the world’s only showcase of new artworks, covering the full cultural spectrum. The risks in such an enterprise are great, but so are the rewards. This particular festival has been sponsored by Manchester Airport for the past 3 years.

The inaugural festival launched with a big bang in 2007 with Monkey: Journey to the West, a ‘circus opera’ based on an ancient Chinese legend. Created by director Chen Shi-Zheng and the Gorillaz team of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, Monkey won rave reviews and went on to play to packed houses in Paris and London. Other highlights of the first MIF included The Pianist, a moving stage dramatisation of the story that formed the basis of the movie of the same name; 14 Tempo del Postino, which bridged the gap between exhibition and stage show with performances aeated by the likes of Matthew Barney and Olafur Eliasson; and Queen and Country, Turner Prize¬winning artist Steve McQueen’s response to the war in Iraq.

The line-up for the 2009 festival, which runs July 2-19, is an equally appetising jumble of music, visual art, theatre, performance and debate. The most eye-catching event may be the world premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s debut opera Prima Donna (pictured), starring Janis Kelly as a faded Parisian soprano preparing for a comeback. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Architect Zaha Hadid has created a new music hall, to be housed within the Manchester Art Gallery. In it, three fine musicians — violinist Alina Ibragimova, cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and pianist Piotr Anderszewski — will perform selections from Bach’s works for solo instrumentalists. Director Neil Bartlett will be converting the Royal Exchange Theatre into a bingo hall for Everybody Loves a Winner, starring Corrie’s Sally Lindsay. And the festival’s very own Pavilion Theatre will offer a slew of smaller-scale events featuring everyone from Amadou & Mariam to the Durutti Column. See the festival’s website for full details of all events.

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