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January 17, 2018 | « back



A Grand Opera in 4 Acts by Rufus Wainwright

with libretto by Daniel MacIvor



Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, October 19, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, October 21, 2018 at 2 p.m.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, October 25, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, October 27, 2018 at 4:30 p.m.


Hadrian Thomas Hampson
Plotina Karita Mattila
Antinous Isaiah Bell
Sabina Ambur Braid
Dinarchus Ben Heppner
Turbo David Leigh
Conductor Johannes Debus
Director Peter Hinton
Set Designer Michael Gianfrancesco
Costume Designer Gillian Gallow
Lighting Designer Bonnie Beecher
Choreographer Denise Clarke
Dramaturg Cori Ellison
Price Family Chorus Master* Sandra Horst

“When I first read the fabulous Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, a novel which inspired at least three generations of gay men, I was instantly struck with the idea of transforming this historical subject into operatic form. Both its intimate nature and wild grandeur seemed perfectly suited for what opera does best: creating a hyper-illustration of the dark inner lives of people up against formidable outer circumstances while at the same time musically careening through the surreal dimensions of what lies in between. In my opinion, no other theatrical form truly refracts life into myriad vibrantly bright colors as much as opera does and the tale of the Roman emperor Hadrian is a diamond perfectly cut for such a task.In this new piece, I continue to follow my sincere love of long melodic lines mixed with rich orchestral textures, a pattern begun in my first opera Prima Donna. But whereas the rainbow refraction is occurring, it’s through a much darker and harsher lens. This story unfolds amidst the upper echelons of a brutal militaristic state and involves historical facts wrapped up in total speculation and surrounded by the supernatural. My Hadrian is a surreal romp through time and space, mixing true occurrences with complete fabrication in order to illustrate a vivid “creative snap shot” of the classical era.

The opera focuses on the emperor’s true but problematic love of the beautiful male youth Antinous. All the while, the dark specter of monotheism rises in the distance, heralded by the Jews and early Christians, which would ultimately destroy the lovers’ ancient pagan belief system. Historical research shows how huge tracts of Hadrian’s life and legacy were purposefully destroyed by vicious detractors – a tremendous tragedy, since judging by surviving accounts, he was a productive and just ruler. This, of course, is heavily complicated by his massacre of Jews, which cannot be forgotten, and is a major focal point of the opera, the results of which we are still confronting today.

His stabilizing of the Empire; his focus on philosophy, arts and architecture; his emphasis on diplomacy instead of brute force; and eventually his successful transfer of power. These achievements, as well as the dark stain of the massacre, would be better known and more deeply understood had it not been for Hadrian’s overt homosexuality. Almost immediately after Hadrian’s death, the patriarchal dictates of mankind took over the narrative, leaving the pathetic ancient observation that he “wept like a woman” when Antinous drowned to overshadow all his accomplishments.

I continue to explore the fascinating ideas which swirl around the subject of my second opera. But I am a composer, and therefore my armchair intellectual reach should be superseded by the music – music that I hope you enjoy.”

– Rufus Wainwright, January 2018




“Every time there was a subdued, tender or quietly suspenseful episode in the score, you sensed the musical subtleties, wistful lyricism and ear for keen detail that have made Mr. Wainwright such a fine songwriter.”
– Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

“…there are veritable moments, and just enough of them, of operatic alchemy in Hadrian—where the text and music seem to be made for each other.”
– Lydia Perović, Opera Canada

“The Canadian Opera Company has created a fabulous production of singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright’s second try at the art form. It was a truly grand spectacle, with stunning visuals from the set, costumes, video projections, and positioning of cast, chorus and five male dancers.” – John Terauds, Toronto Star


















Photos by Michael Cooper. For the full gallery, click here.


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