Step into the world of Hadrian: interdisciplinary conference offers insights into new opera

by | Oct 9, 2018 | Featured, News

Hadrian, Rufus Wainwright’s all-new operatic creation, is days away from hitting the main stage.

As all eyes train on Toronto for its highly anticipated world premiere, the Canadian Opera Company is hosting a conference called “Hearing Hadrian,” aimed at exploring the opera’s place within the larger context of the 21st-century and queer storytelling.

Held at The 519, a city organization in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood dedicated to advocacy for the inclusion of LGBTQ2S communities, the day-long interdisciplinary conference on October 14th (10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) will give attendees a deeper glimpse into the intellectual, historical and technical components of the opera’s creation. It will tackle questions including:

Who was Hadrian and what makes his story a timeless classic for a modern audience?

And how can traditional art forms, like opera, be reimagined to tell marginalized stories?

“It will talk about where opera is going, where Hadrian fits in within the larger context of opera, and how really we don’t need to be scared of new compositions…we need to embrace them,” says Catherine Willshire, the COC’s Adult Programs Manager.

Panels led by scholars of music, history and gender studies will explore the concept of sexuality in Ancient Rome, the history of Emperor Hadrian’s rule, and how the art form is using technology to evolve as a medium of storytelling.

In a press release from the COC, event organizer Linda Hutcheon explains, “With the premiere of Hadrian, the time has come to explore the recent and welcome changes in opera that have now made this art form more musically accessible, more technologically dazzling, and more socially provocative—and relevant.”

COC General Director Alexander Neef and composer Rufus Wainwright at an orchestra reading with the COC Orchestra, May 2018. Photo: COC staff

COC General Director Alexander Neef and composer Rufus Wainwright at an orchestra reading with the COC Orchestra, May 2018. Photo: COC staff

Singer-songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright’s second foray into the world of opera—and the COC’s first full-length, mainstage world premiere since 1999—Hadrian tells the oft-forgotten tale of the eponymous Roman Emperor and his deep, unshakable love for another man, Antinous. It premieres at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on October 13th. Tickets to the ‘Hearing Hadrian’ conference are free but require registration (note: event currently is ‘full’ but more tickets may become available as of Oct. 10…and you can line up for stand-by tickets the day of the symposium).

The day will also include a chance to hear from some of the country’s top singing talent with a short open-air concert performance at lunchtime, featuring artists from the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio. Hearing Hadrian culminates with a roundtable with the opera’s creative team, including composer Rufus Wainwright, director Peter Hinton, dramaturg Cori Ellison, librettist Daniel MacIvor and tenor Isaiah Bell (who appears in the role of Antinous.)

For anyone curious about the brand-new opera, the conference is an opportunity to get to know one of the season’s most hotly anticipated original productions just a little bit better.

Program Overview:


 “Have No Fear: Opera in the 21st Century”

Linda and Michael Hutcheon, provide an opening overview of the evolution of contemporary opera and Hadrian’s place within it, chaired by Katherine Semcesen, COC Associate Director of Education and Outreach.


Linda Hutcheon, Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature, at UofT

Michael Hutcheon,Professor of Medicine at UofT


“21st-Century Technological Revolutions”

What happens when tradition meets technology? This panel, moderated by Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy, Projection Designer for Hadrian, looks at the future of opera and virtual reality experiments.


Michael Mori, Artistic Director of Tapestry Opera

Rorik Henrikson, Innovator: Human Computer Interaction, Stereoscopy, and Virtual Reality

Jake Gow, COC Associate Technical Director


“Queer Storytelling from Screen to Stage”

In this talk, chaired by Don McLean, Dean of Music at the UofT, music history scholar Lloyd Whitesell explores how contemporary storytelling mediums are being used to represent the queer experience.


Lloyd Whitesell, Professor of Music History at McGill University


Pop-up Concert in Barbara Hall Park, Presented in Partnership with the Church-Wellesley Village BIA’s Music in the Park Series

Weather permitting, enjoy an open-air performance, just outside The 519, by artists of the COC Ensemble Studio. The Ensemble Studio is one of Canada’s most prestigious opera training programs and attracts some of country’s best emerging opera talent.


“A Grand Opera for the 21st Century: The Music and Creation of Hadrian”

Introduced by Wayne Gooding, opera scholar and former editor of Opera CanadaCori Ellison provides insights into the diverse inspiration for Hadrian’s unique sound world in this work that bridges classical and pop traditions.


Cori Ellison, Dramaturg for Hadrian


“Sexualities in Ancient Rome”

Dive into the fascinating history of cultural perceptions of sexuality with classical studies scholar Kelly Olson. This lecture is chaired by Scott Rayter, Associate Director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at UofT.


Kelly Olson, Professor of Classical Studies at Western University


“History of Hadrian’s Rule”

Historically, Hadrian’s legacy has been deeply divisive. In this lecture, chaired by Caryl Clark, Professor of Music History and Culture at the UofT, classics scholar Andreas Bendlin examines the clashes of political and religious conflicts that form the backdrop for the opera.


Andreas Bendlin, Professor of Classics and Roman History at UofT


Roundtable of Hadrian Creative Team and Artists

The team behind Hadrian’s world premiere shares how and why they got involved with the production, the creative challenges of creating a brand new opera, and reflect upon the experience of seeing Hadrian and Antinous on stage.


Rufus Wainwright, Composer

Daniel MacIvor, Librettist

Peter Hinton, Director

Isaiah Bell, Tenor singing role of Antinous

Gillian Gallow, Costume Designer

Cori Ellison (moderator), Dramaturg



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