Damon Albarn's Monkey: Journey to the West opened the Manchester international festival last night.

The Blur front man composed The Music for the show, which features the character of Monkey based on the Chinese legend of the Monkey King.

Albarn worked with Gorillaz artist Jamie Hewlett to create the opera, which is directed by Chen Shi-Zheng.

Hewlett said: "China is amazing, but not for the fainthearted. Putting this together has been like - oh my god - we're doing an opera."

Although billed as an opera, the show involves acrobats and aerialists as well as martial artists in full costume.

Hewlett's animations are shown at different points and are clearly connected to the images related to Gorillaz.

The opera will also be performed on June 29th through to July 7th in a packed programme at the festival.

Billed as the first international event with only new work, artists such as Carlos Acosta, William Orbit, Heston Blumenthal and the Happy Mondays will be performing.

New London band the Noisettes will be joined by musicians such as PJ Harvey and Kanye West for some Brand New shows.

Festival director Alex Poots said: "It's certainly a risk to commission and premiere an entire festival of new work but it's important to provide artists with a home to experiment and develop new ideas."

Albarn was present for the opening night taking place in the old stomping ground of his former band's Britpop rivals Oasis.

29/06/2007 11:58:01