Manchester becomes the hub of the arts world as the International Festival reaches the city with a string of eagerly-awaited premieres by ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn, Icelandic pop star Bjork, Snoop Dogg and comedians Victoria Wood and Johnny Vegas, amongst others.
Theatre and music lovers from every corner of the globe are headed to the North of the UK for the world-class arts programme, which includes Dr Dee, an opera written by Albarn and theatre director Rufus Norris.
Bury comedian Wood's new production, That Day We Sang, opens at the Opera House, and is a highlight of the festival, which takes place every two years, and brought more than 231,000 people to Manchester in 2009, generating almost £36m for the region's economy.
The festival is set to be 60 per cent bigger this year, with ticket sales already up 20 per cent on 2009.
Festival director Alex Poots said: "We've got some of the best artists in the world including ones from here in the festival.
“It's been a tough year for everyone and I think Manchester should let its hair down and party for three weeks.
“For those who are feeling the pinch, a third of the festival is free, and for those who aren't, we're 60 per cent bigger than last time so there is still availability for most shows."
The city council's executive member for culture and leisure, Mike Amesbury, said: "We certainly hope to surpass the success of last time, even in these difficult economic times.
“This is only our third festival and everything people will see are world premieres meaning there is an incredible package available to Mancunians right on their doorstep.
"With large numbers of national and international visitors, it promises a great boost to the economy with spends on tickets, in hotels, bars and restaurants."