NEW YORK, Oct. 1, 1998—“The real problem was trying to figure out when and where to kill people,” says director Sophie Muller of the logistical complexities behind the video for “April Fools,” the first radio track from Rufus Wainwright’s eponymous debut album.

The clip finds Wainwright waking up one morning with some of opera’s greatest heroines: Cho-Cho-San (“Madame Butterfly”), Carmen (“Carmen”), Mimi (“La Boheme”), Tosca (“Tosca”) and Gilda (“Rigoletto”). The sextet gather round the piano for a moment of music before heading off to the local diner for breakfast. As the narrative unfolds, the viewer realizes that despite the naturalistic setting—the video was filmed entirely with available light in a few square blocks just east of Hollywood—the divas are, in fact, headed for their respective opera-scripted dooms. Wainwright spends the duration of the video trying to save them.

A devoted opera lover, the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter has referred to his own material as “popera.” It was no surprise to the director, then, when he suggested the video’s premise. Muller—celebrated for a diverse body of work that ranges from No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” Blur’s “Song 2” and Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” to Annie Lennox’s “Why” and Jeff Buckley’s “So Real”—committed to the project after falling in love with “April Fools” and learning that Wainwright is the son of one of her favorite recording artists, Kate McGarrigle of The McGarrigle Sisters.

Muller was also excited by the idea of something different. "“I really wanted to do this because it wasn’t like anything else. It’s always interesting to move beyond the rock genre, and Rufus’ fascination with opera presented some intriguing possibilities. Most videos are just formula, but I knew this one wouldn’t be.”

Still, Muller concedes that the execution of the tragicomic clip was not without its difficulties. “I suppose this was kind of ambitious, but I’ve always believed a video should have a beginning, a middle and an end. The challenge is to integrate the artist’s performance within the action, rather than cut away to non-narrative performance footage. ‘April Fools’ was a complicated shoot because we had six parallel storylines. We had to be careful to get certain shots—a lot of them—or the narratives wouldn’t work.”

Making this hurdle even higher were scheduling intricacies, elaborate costumes and 100 heat. Melissa Auf Der Maur, who portrays Gilda, was forced to leave early to attend rehearsals with her band, Hole. Martha Wainwright (Rufus’ sister and frequent collaborator), who played Cho-Cho-San, was stuck in her kimono for the duration of the two-day shoot because a Japanese consultant—who was unable to remain on the set all day—was required to enfold her in the traditional garment.

Speaking of costumes, much of the power of “April Fools” derives from the contrast of the divas’ spectacular finery with the seedy banalities of Sunset Blvd. Wardrobe specialist Arianne Philips (a Wainwright fan who’s contributed to videos for Madonna and Hole, among others) and hair and makeup maestro Martin Pretorias (best known for his work with Annie Lennox) began each day at 6:00 a.m. sharp, striving for authenticity and efficiency amid the hubbub of filming.

In one of the video’s more subtle costuming conceits, Billy Poveda, president of Oil Factory, the award-winning production company responsible for the clip, plays Carmen’s jealous lover/murderer. “Carmen’s lover is traditionally depicted as a soldier in uniform,” Muller explains. “But it didn’t really make sense to introduce a soldier, considering the location. We were trying to figure out who would be sitting around in a uniform in Silverlake, and then it struck us—a valet parker.” Poveda gallantly stepped in as the diner’s homicidal car caddie. Another employee of the modest eatery, the waitress, is portrayed by No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, a friend of Muller’s “who’ll do anything for a laugh.”

Of course, Carmen is not the only diva to die in “April Fools,” despite Wainwright’s brave efforts to stave off the inevitable: Mimi succumbs to consumption, Tosca hurls herself off a bridge, Cho-Cho-San commits ritual suicide, and Gilda sacrifices herself to a band of thugs.

As to the epic—and to some, obscure—reasons for these cruel fates, Muller confides, “There was some concern that the viewers wouldn’t get it. We considered inserting captions explaining who the characters are and what they’re doing but in the end decided it didn’t matter. That’s another way ‘April Fools’ is unusual. Like most videos, it’s a series of beautiful images, but if you want to look into it further, you can learn something. I believe the people who see this and don’t know what’s going on but want to know will take it upon themselves to find out.”

Rufus Wainwright (DreamWorks Records) was released May 19, 1998. DreamWorks Records is marketed through Geffen Records, which is owned by Universal Studios, Inc., a unit of The Seagram Company Ltd., a global beverage and entertainment company.