Alexander’s big gay Canadian opera

hadrian_antinousSo today’s Globe and Mail carries the news that the Canadian Opera Company has commissioned its first new work since 1999.  A piece based on the life of the emperor Hadrian will headline the company’s 2018 season.  Now Hadrian may be best known for a chunk of masonry in the north of England but he’s also almost as well known for deifying his lover Antinous.  Since the music and book for the new work are to be by Rufus Wainwright and Daniel McIvor I think we can safely say that that side of things will feature more prominently than fortification construction. 

rufus2It’s an interesting decision and quite a courageous one (in the Humphrey Appleby sense of “courageous”).  It will almost certainly piss off the established CanMusic crowd (though that doesn’t pose much of a threat) and, perhaps more seriously, could provoke the federal government who don’t seem to be overly sympathetic to overtly gay arts projects.  I’m also curious about the music and whether it will appeal to Toronto audiences (or alternately pull in an audience from further afield as L’Amour de Loin seems to have done).  I haven’t heard Wainwright’s previous operatic excursion, Prima Donna, but I’m assuming it’s more “accessible” than, say, Aribert Reimann.  As far as I can tell Prima Donna hasn’t been recorded but there is a “making of” DVD documentary.  I guess that will have to do for now.

Spotlight_Tarragon_McIvorI’m also a little fearful, based on remarks attributed to Alexander Neef by the Globe and Mail, that this may be the token “modern” offering for some time.  The COC doesn’t have a great track record of presenting modern opera.  I think it’s true to say that they have only ever performed one work written this century and this season has nothing newer than Peter Grimes which was written in 1945 which makes it about as old as the average COC goer.  We seem to be rationed to a maximum of one post WW2 work per year and with the reduction from seven productions to six I fear we won’t even get that.  That makes me a sad panda.

Bottom line, it’s good to see COC commissioning new work and I hope this a major success other concerns notwithstanding.

10 thoughts on “Alexander’s big gay Canadian opera

  1. Louis Riel survived and was remounted by UBC Opera Ensemble. The Luck of Ginger Coffey vanished, not to be seen again….hopefully this new commission will be a success…..

      • Yes, in 1975 at the Kennedy Centre and it seems that McGill Opera also did a production. Leon Major was a great champion and promoter of Louis Riel, the opera. The conductor of LOGC kept asking the composer to “stop with the re-writes already”!!!

  2. I found Prima Donna quite accessible musically, lyrical and beautiful and flowing. The complaints that I had heard were that there wasn’t enough depth; I think I’d have to hear it again to so anything on that front. Overall I found it full of magic and wonder in a way much more classical than modern. Wainwright sang Tosca as a child, not Lulu or Billy Budd.

    • “Wainwright sang Tosca as a child, not Lulu or Billy Budd.”

      I think that’s what worries me. Neither Billy Budd nor Lulu are remotely recent. They might be considered “modern” in some vague sense but then historians say that about Richard II. I fear a soupy attempt to create an idiom that belongs to the past rather than a genuine attempt to find an operatic idiom for the 21st century. Some of Neef’s statements rub me up that way too. I don’t think it’s impossible to be original, authentic and accessible. To my mind Heggie managed it with Moby Dick. Anyway, “accessibility” is over-rated. Reimann’s Medea played to full houses in Vienna and that’s not an easy piece. It’s wonderful though.

      In any event I’ll judge Hadrian on what I see and hear and I hope for the best.

  3. This is my first time commenting on this blog so please let me begin by expressing my admiration for this project, and it’s writer! It’s a wonderful resource.

    Now to put on my pessimist’s hat for a moment: I must admit this news finds me somewhere between nonplussed and downright annoyed. I am an enthusiastic proponent of the idea of contemporary opera, and agree with the comment above about how odd it is that works written over a century ago are still held to be scandalously avant garde by reactionary elements in the opera community. That’s why it’s so troubling to see this rare and necessary step take shape in this way. Would it kill the COC to find an actual opera composer, or an actual librettist? Wainwright’s foray into opera (which I did not see) was risible by almost every critic’s account and one suspect’s that his social position played a larger role in this than anything else (he, his husband/Luminato chief Jorn Weisbrodt, and Neef move in the same claustrophobic circles). How dispiriting for young artists for whom the message is plain enough: if you weren’t born in to the elite don’t try to make it in the arts.I fear this work will be panned by critics, poorly attended and cited by conservative patrons/donors as proof that contemporary opera is garbage, and by the public at large as proof that arts funding is basically welfare for a tiny elite of well-connected downtown types. Sigh.

    • Well thank you and please feel free to comment. It worries me that sometimes my blog seems like something for me and my three closest friends. I’d like it to be a platform for wider debate.
      In many ways I share your fears. I hope we are both wrong but only time will tell.

  4. And, I say again, #RUSH has a larger young/old popular audience than RW; so why not commission #RUSH to compose a new Canadian opera?
    Come on Neef, do your Canadian pop singer homework, #RUSH = more #bottoms in seats.
    (Let’s see what #RUSH can do for new Canadian opera!)
    Perhaps a better use of COC Neef travel funds might be an investment in researching real Canadian opera composers; starting close to home in Toronto with #TapestryOpera, just one return subway token cost.
    Better yet, in 2017, how about a 50th celebration production of Louis Riel composed by an excellent and accomplished Canadian – initials are HS – just a hint for you Alexander Neef!

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