THE new opera by Rufus Wainright about Hadrian and Antinous will be a timely operatic comment on modern homophobia, the composer says.
The opera – simply titled HADRIAN – with a libretto by Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor will have its world premiere as the opening production of Toronto's Canadian Opera Company's 2018 season.
"What's interesting about the story of Hadrian is he was actually in love with Antinous, who was another man," Wainwright says in the interview with PRI radio.
Wainwright is the gifted Canadian singer/songwriter/musical man about the world who has forged a unique career in mainstream contemporary music as an original, quirky, thinking person's pop star. And he's not new to the world of opera.
"Prima Donna," his 2009 debut, which told the story of an aging opera singer attempting to make a comeback, has been presented in Manchester, London, New York, Toronto and around the globe, to reviews that roamed from the enthusiastic ("a love song to opera," wrote The Times of London) to the outraged (The New York Times called it "an ultimately mystifying failure") – the quality of reaction being determined, more or less, by the closeness of the reviewer to the world of classical music.
Wainwright started talking about Hadrian around the time he was serenading his mother with the opera's overture in early 2010.
As his mother, Kate McGarrigle, faced her final days in January, 2010, Wainwright played his latest composition for her at the family piano ... the overture to his new opera about Antinous and Hadrian.
What attracted him to Hadrian was the power of the story Wainwright wanted to tell.
Certainly the story of the Emperor Hadrian has plenty to offer contemporary audiences. Quixotic, domineering and visionary, Hadrian represented the end of the Classical era in Roman history, a fascinating period when the influence of Greek ideas began to predominate in Roman society, changing its political landscape in significant ways.
Wainwright adds, "And then there's Antinous, essentially the male equivalent to Helen of Troy - though we know he actually existed and exactly what he looked like. At one point he was neck and neck with Christ in terms of cult status after disappearing in the Nile. Imagine what a different world that would have been if he had lived!"