So 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.
It’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.
I’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.