Rufus Wainwright loves Minnesota. He really does.

The pop singer/opera composer was one of us for a while. He lived in Minneapolis for four or five months back in the 1990s because he had a friend who lived here (and still does).

"It all started, of course, with Mary Tyler Moore," said Wainwright, who worked as a waiter at the now-defunct New French Cafe. "I remember the first time actually going there and getting this sense that it is this oasis in the middle of America where people are open-minded, which is unusual because the Midwest has a certain beauty to it but I wouldn't say open-mindedness is one of the traits.

"I sensed [openmindedness] whether it was a place like the Walker [Art Center] or the Loring Bar. [Minnesota] also does have a good solid Americana aspect, as well. You're still corn-fed-boy territory, which is nice."

When Wainwright comes to the State Theatre on Thursday he'll discover that the Loring isn't in Loring Park anymore but in Dinkytown.

Minneapolis is on a short list of cities where he is doing solo shows this fall while composing his first opera, "Prima Donna," which he describes as "a day in the life of an opera singer."

He won't perform anything from his latest album, "Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall," because he usually does Judy Garland stuff with an accompanist. He won't do anything from "Prima Donna," which was commissioned by New York's Metropolitan Opera but is now headed elsewhere because the Montreal-bred star refused to use English instead of French for the libretto.

In August, Wainwright performed with opera star Jessye Norman in New York and sang at Rock to Win, a gay-themed event in Denver during the Democratic National Convention. (He was on the convention floor during the roll call vote for Barack Obama's nomination.) Next week, he'll sing "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" with Elton John, who is performing the album of the same name in its entirety in New York City.

Before heading off to Spain for three solo concerts, Wainwright, 32, called from Manhattan to talk about composing his opera, putting together a solo show and loving Minnesota and Garland.

Q You said your show is "An Evening's Walk Down Rufus' Memory Lane." How do you go about putting together a solo show?

A I change it every night, whereas the last tour was extremely executed and choreographed. This one is completely off the cuff. I do make a set list. A lot of it initially depends on how my voice is and what it can sing. Secondly, it is probably where I am. And also I am working on a new album as well, so I like to pop in some new stuff to try that out on innocent victims.

Q What goes through your mind onstage when you're solo?

A It depends. Sometimes it's that evening's menu. Sometimes it's the state of America. Sometimes it's my mother [singer Kate McGarrigle]. Sometimes it's my lover. It's different every time. Sometimes it's nothing. At the end of the day, I have developed some kind of measurement to make sure that what I'm doing is effective and enjoyable to the audience. I do work a lot up there. But it does become second nature after a while and either your brain does what it wants to do or, depending on the world, comes down and hits you like a ton of bricks. It's always a mystery.

Q What's the status of your opera, "Prima Donna"?

A That is being premiered in July in Manchester, England, in French. Then there are a few other places to go. I'm working furiously on it. I've got opera up to my gills.

Q You're accustomed to working on smaller projects. How do you jump to an opera?

A You just do it. One of the reasons I was able to even commence this project was that I related to the characters. Once I found the threads of their souls I just had to sort of tug and get them pulled in. You have to just put blinders on and go there. Now it's almost finished. It's really about not thinking too much.

Q Is the story inspired by Maria Callas?

A She's one of the influences. But it's my own creation. This prima donna is an amalgamation of many opera divas over the years.

Q Speaking of opera divas, you recently performed with Jessye Norman. How was that?

A It was amazing. She did not disappoint in the opera diva department.

Q What does Minneapolis mean to you?

A I'm a huge Minneapolis fan -- except bar the Republican National Convention. It all started, of course, with Mary Tyler Moore. ... I ended up hearing a lot about Minnesota on public radio with Garrison Keillor. So it was always kind of a mysterious place on the road. Of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald is from St. Paul. And I love Swedes.

Q And, of course, you were here in the Land of 10,000 Treatment Centers for treatment.

A Yes, I came back in another guise. But I didn't stay.

Q Here I thought you were trying to get in touch with Judy Garland's roots.

A Oh, that's right. I forget about that. She's from Minnesota, too. Grand Rapids. I would say she's born there, but Judy Garland's really kind of born in a trunk onscreen. You really get the sense when listening to her talk that she didn't know where she was from.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719