Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn continues to be a true rock 'n' roll Renaissance man. Sure, he reunited Blur in 2012 and the band is currently trotting the globe playing festival dates in such exotic locales as Poland, Belgium, Russia, Switzerland and Italy, but one of Albarn's other creations is hitting New York City next week.
Monkey: Journey to the West, an opera created by Chinese actor/director Chen Shi-zheng along with Albarn and his Gorillaz mate Jamie Hewlett, opens at the Lincoln Center Festival on July 6 and runs through July 28.
A retelling of a classic 16th century Chinese tale, the opera combines live musical theater with animation, and features a full cast of Chinese acrobats, singers, contortionists and martial artists. It's performed in Mandarin with English subtitles, but judging by the reviews from its London run, it's still wildly entertaining, even if you can't understand the words. The Guardian called it, "A high-octane, 90-minute rock 'n' roll circus," while Time Out London said it was "the event of the year."
A soundtrack album featuring music from the production was released back in 2008, and entered the U.K. charts at No. 5 and the U.K. Indie chart at No. 1.
Over his career, Albarn has veered off on several musical tangents outside of Blur and Gorillaz, including the Afro-beat side project Mali Music and all-star combos The Good, the Bad & the Queen and Rocket Juice & the Moon, but he was composing classical pieces back in his early teens.
"I wrote lots of stuff when I was 13 or 14 but then I became a teenager, and I lost it," he said in a 2007 interview with the Telegraph about Monkey. "I wish I could find the bloomin' things...You know how some things can be hermetic for years and suddenly they're not? That's what happened with this piece. I've wanted to do this for 20 years; somehow it seemed impossible, and now here it is."