Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright is delving back into the world of opera, teaming up with celebrated actor, director and playwright Daniel MacIvor for a new work inspired by ancient Roman Emperor Hadrian and the mysterious death of his lover Antinous.
Canadian Opera Company general director Alexander Neef revealed the forthcoming work Hadrian today, noting that he'd been discussing the new opera commission with Wainwright for several years.
'He was an emperor filled with ambition, sensitivity and intelligence and, like all big political figures, he also had a tormented and brooding dark side. Perfect opera material' - Rufus Wainwright
Set to open the Toronto-based COC's 2018-2019 season, Hadrian will be set at the end of the classical era and tell the story of the titular emperor and his profound grief when his lover Antinous drowns in the Nile at the height of their affair.
At the time, the emperor's relationship with the young Greek man had been frowned upon by some of the leader's inner circle. After the drowning, Antinous was intensely mourned by the great Hadrian, who founded a city, built a temple and set up a festival in his memory.
"The story of Hadrian and Antinous has long fascinated me," composer Wainwright said in a statement.
"[Hadrian] was an emperor filled with ambition, sensitivity and intelligence and, like all big political figures, he also had a tormented and brooding dark side. Perfect opera material."
The project is the Montreal-raised Wainwright's second opera, following Prima Donna, which debuted at the Manchester International Festival in July 2009.
MacIvor, the Siminovitch and Governor General's Literary Award-winning playwright, will make his debut as an opera librettist with Hadrian.
"The deeper I delve into Hadrian's world and his time, the more parallels I see to how we live today," said the Toronto and Avondale, N.S.-based MacIvor.
"The mystery of why Hadrian's remarkable love for Antinous — underlined by his bottomless grief — has not been celebrated widely as a model of eros points to a fear of same-sex love that has changed little from his age to ours."
Matching the two creators makes for "an exciting pairing," added the COC's Neef.
"Daniel is as articulate, sharp and passionate about developing this story through words as Rufus is about using music."
Hadrian will mark the COC's fifth commissioned opera to have its world premiere as a mainstage production and the first since Neef took over as general director in 2008.
Casting, design and further creative team details will be announced at a later date.