Hadrian is composed by internationally acclaimed Canadian-American singer, songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright with libretto by award-winning Canadian actor, director and playwright Daniel MacIvor. Inspired by the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his love for Antinous, Hadrian is currently in development and is scheduled to open the COC’s 2018/2019 mainstage season.

Alexander Neef on Hadrian, Rufus Wainwright and Daniel MacIvor

Rufus Wainwright on Hadrian

Daniel MacIvor on Hadrian

Globe and Mail - "Why Rufus Wainwright is turning a Roman Emperor into a COC opera" - November 30, 2013 
Toronto Star - "Neef boldly plots original opera about Hadrian" - November 30, 2013

Information regarding the creative team, as well as casting, design and sponsorship of Hadrian will be released as details become available. 

Canadian Opera Company Announces Commission of new opera by composer Rufus Wainwright and playwright Daniel MacIvor

Canadian Opera Company World Premieres 

Click for Rufus Wainwright's biography Click for Daniel MacIvor's biography


Set at the end of the classical era, Hadrian tells the story of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his profound grief at the death of his lover Antinous. Hadrian’s relationship with Antinous, a young man in his entourage, was frowned upon by many in his inner circle. In fact, during this period of the most critical changes in religious history – the rise of monotheism in the face of the end of the old pagan deities – Hadrian’s love for Antinous was not only discouraged, it was dangerous. When Antinous drowns in the Nile at the height of their love affair, many questions arise about the nature of his death. Hadrian offers answers to those questions and in turn raises more questions about self-sacrifice, jealousy, treachery and love itself.


General Director Alexander Neef on Hadrian, Rufus Wainwright and Daniel MacIvor

Back to top

 “We began the process of creating a new opera for the Canadian Opera Company several years ago, and I’m very proud to say that we are now at the stage where we can make the news public. Bringing a world premiere to the COC’s mainstage is a significant undertaking for the company and we’re proud to say that all the elements are now in place to make a strong project. Rufus Wainwright and I have been talking about what Hadrian would look like for at least three years now and I’m very excited about the musical and dramatic direction that this piece will take.” 

“Rufus has such incredible passion for opera, and he brings a genuine desire to contribute to the art form and the future of opera. That’s an especially rare quality and an essential one, in order to create a meaningful piece of art that lives on long after its premiere. Rufus writes very well for the voice, but what has impressed me so much is that he writes with a completely different musical vocabulary for opera than for his other writings. I’m looking forward to seeing how his musical language will translate to Hadrian.”  

“You can’t have a great opera without a great libretto. Finding a great librettist is critical and I’m delighted that Daniel MacIvor has joined this project. Hadrian will be the first opera he has written, making the occasion of this commission even more momentous. He comes with a fresh perspective on how this opera can take dramatic shape. It’s an exciting pairing. Daniel is as articulate, sharp and passionate about developing this story through words as Rufus is about using music.”


Composer Rufus Wainwright on Hadrian

Back to top

“I’m thrilled to be setting out on this epic journey with the COC and look forward to once again diving into the deep end, a requirement on all fronts in the world of opera.”

“The story of Hadrian and Antinous has long fascinated me. Be it through initially reading Marguerite Yourcenar’s classic novel Memoirs of Hadrian, going further afield in investigating the history surrounding his reign – arguably one of the most critical periods in the western time line since it represents the end of the classical era – or most importantly visiting Tivoli, Hadrian’s villa near Rome, which, though crumbling, impressively illustrates the might and vision of an incredible man. 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.” 

“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!” 

Librettist Daniel MacIvor on Hadrian

Back to top

“If someone had told me a year ago that I would be writing a libretto, I would not have believed them. But as I investigated the form I began to see how my writing could serve it. The very soul of the libretto is the idea that rigorous economy of language will expose the essential beauty of that language. Initially I was concerned that my lack of knowledge in the form would be a detriment to finding my way, but under the assured tutelage of Alexander and surrounded by the rapturous passion of Rufus for opera, my initiation has been muscular and swift.” 

“There is a thrill for me in finding the essential function of the fewest words possible in the telling of a story. And what a story to tell! The deeper I delve into Hadrian’s world and his time, the more parallels I see to how we live today. Are we too facing the end of an era? It does feel that way more and more. And 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. I’m honoured to be starting this journey into the world of opera with the COC and inside this powerful and resonant story.” 



Rufus Wainwright - Composer

Rufus Wainwright has established himself as one of the most prolific songwriters and male vocalists of his generation. The New York born, Montreal bred singer songwriter has released seven celebrated studio albums as well as two live LPs including his Grammy-nominated Judy Garland tribute, Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall. His 2010 studio album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, featured adaptations of three of Shakespeare’s sonnets set to his original compositions. His orchestral settings of Five Shakespeare Sonnets were commissioned and premiered with the San Francisco Symphony in November 2010. On his latest studio release, 2012’s Out of the Game, Wainwright collaborated with the celebrated producer Mark Ronson. Wainwright’s much acclaimed first opera, Prima Donna, premiered at the Manchester International Festival in July 2009, was performed in London at Sadler’s Wells, made its North American debut in June 2010 at Toronto’s Luminato Festival and its debut in the United States in February 2012 at the New York City Opera at BAM. He has collaborated with artists such as Sting, Paul Simon, the Pet Shop Boys, Douglas Gordon, Lou Reed, Antony, Robert Wilson, David Byrne, Robbie Williams and Elton John among others. Wainwright is the son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle and brother of Martha Wainwright. Wainwright has achieved his success by carving out his own singular sound in the worlds of pop, opera, theatre, dance and film.

Back to top

Daniel MacIvor - Librettist 

Daniel MacIvor is originally from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and currently lives in Toronto and Avondale, Nova Scotia. From 1987 to 2007 with Sherrie Johnson he ran da da kamera, a respected international touring company that brought his work to Australia, Israel, Europe, the UK, and extensively throughout Canada and the United States. He has written numerous award-winning theatre productions including See Bob Run, The Soldier Dreams, You Are Here, Arigato, Tokyo, The Best Brothers and his work has been translated into Portuguese, Spanish, Czech, German and Japanese and most recently his play His Greatness was translated into French by the celebrated Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay. With Daniel Brooks he created the solo shows House, Here Lies Henry, Monster, Cul-de-sac, This Is What Happens Next and currently they are working on Who Killed Spalding Gray? based on MacIvor’s personal connection to the American monologuist. MacIvor received the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama in 2006 for his collection of plays I Still Love You and in 2008 he was awarded the Siminovitch Prize for Theatre. He is also the recipient of an Obie Award and a GLAAD Award for his play In On It. MacIvor is currently playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.

Back to top

Photos: Rufus Wainwright headshot. Credit: Matthias Clamer; Daniel MacIvor headshot. Credit: Guntar Kravis.

Phone: 416-363-8231

Toll Free: 1-800-250-4653

Contact Page

Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube