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    By Public Relations
    Read the PDF version here.

    Epic, historical gay love story attracts all-star cast

    Toronto – On October 13, 2018, the Canadian Opera Company presents the highly anticipated world premiere of Hadrian by composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor. The opera recounts the epic love story of Roman Emperor Hadrian and his young lover, Antinous. Erased by history, their story is reclaimed for the 21st century by its creators in a star-studded production from renowned Canadian director Peter Hinton. Hadrian runs for seven performances on October 13, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 2018.                   

    Hadrian highlights the incredible connective potential of live opera for this moment in time,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “As a production that features bold Canadian artistry, multimedia storytelling, and extensive interdisciplinary collaboration, Hadrian is a fully immersive experience that provokes discussion and reflects on the timelessness of love, in all its shapes and forms. The COC is proud to support the creation of new and fearless operatic endeavors and looks forward to sharing Hadrian with our audiences.”

    The opera explores the life of the aging and ailing Roman emperor, Hadrian, as matters of the heart stubbornly eclipse pressing matters of the state. Hadrian remains steeped in grief, unable to move past the death of charismatic Antinous at the height of their all-consuming relationship. Time and memory bleed into love and loss as Hadrian is given a unique opportunity to discover just how Antinous met his untimely end.

    Hadrian features a formidable cast of international talent, including two opera legends making highly anticipated company debuts: American baritone Thomas Hampson in the title role and Finnish soprano Karita Mattila as the former empress Plotina. With a “repertoire of more than 80 roles on the globe's greatest stages, Hampson is one of the living few with Pavarotti-like legend status” (Sydney Morning Herald), while Mattila brings the “rich nuance of her vocal sound” (The Guardian) to her role as Trajan’s wife and one of Hadrian’s great supporters. Rising Canadian-American tenor Isaiah Bell sings Antinous; his “smooth sound” (The Globe and Mail) breathes life into the lover that forever changed the Roman Empire. Soprano Ambur Braid, is Hadrian’s wife Sabina; the COC Ensemble Studio graduate was recently praised by The New York Times for her “gleaming sound.” American bass David Leigh brings his “beautiful, youthful tone” (Opera Today) to Turbo, head of Hadrian’s military.  And legendary Canadian tenor Ben Heppner comes out of opera performance retirement to make a cameo appearance as Dinarchus.

    Composer Rufus Wainwright has long drawn inspiration from the Romantic tradition of grand opera, a passion that led to his first operatic work, Prima Donna, in 2009. For the internationally acclaimed Canadian-American singer-songwriter, translating Hadrian’s story into a score that reflected the complexity of his state and circumstance was a true labour of love: “My Hadrian…is a surreal romp through time and space, mixing true occurrences with complete fabrication in order to illustrate a vivid ‘creative snapshot’ of what the end of the Classical era may have felt like.” In penning the libretto, award-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor steps into new creative territory; the Canadian theatre veteran says his work on this opera carries a weight that is deeply personal: “As a gay man, not to have known Hadrian’s story felt like I had been robbed of something, of a historical figure that somehow validated my love.”  

    Hadrian marks the second COC production for the powerhouse creative team behind 2017’s Louis Riel: celebrated set designer Michael Gianfrancesco, costume designer Gillian Gallow, and lighting designer Bonnie Beecher, all led by boundary-pushing Canadian director Peter Hinton. Joining the team for Hadrian is projection designer Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy (the COC’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung) and choreographer Denise Clark.

    COC Music Director Johannes Debus leads the COC Orchestra through Hadrian’s lush and flowing romantic score. The COC Chorus is led by Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst.

    The world premiere of Hadrian marks the first COC-commissioned opera to premiere on the Four Seasons Centre Stage. The COC’s previous commissions are: The Golden Ass (1999), Mario and the Magician (1992), Héloise and Abélard (1973), and The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1967). The company has also commissioned a new work by Ana Sokolović, scheduled for a future season, and was the world premiere presenter of Louis Riel in 1967 (a work commissioned by the Floyd S. Chalmers Foundation) and Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe in 2015.

    Hadrian is sung in English and Latin and presented by the COC with English SURTITLES™.

    ***Additional information about the production concept behind Hadrian, its music, and a series of public education and outreach events will be forthcoming in separate press materials issued in the coming weeks.



    Thomas Hampson


    Karita Mattila


    Roger Honeywell


    David Leigh


    Ambur Braid


    Isaiah Bell


    Gregory Dahl


    Anna-Sophie Neher


    John Mac Master

    Nervous Senator

    Thomas Glenn

    Sycophantic Senator

    Samuel Chan

    Superior Senator

    Joel Allison


    Ben Heppner




    Johannes Debus


    Peter Hinton

    Set Designer

    Michael Gianfrancesco

    Costume Designer

    Gillian Gallow

    Lighting Designer

    Bonnie Beecher

    Projection Designer

    Laurie Shawn-Borzovoy


    Denise Clarke


    Cori Ellison

    Price Family Chorus Master

    Sandra Horst


    Single tickets for Hadrian range from $35 – $250 with Grand Ring seats available at $290 and $350. Tickets are on sale August 27, available online at, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). For more information on specially priced tickets available to young people under the age of 15, standing room, Opera Under 30 presented by TD Bank Group, student groups and rush seating, visit


    BMO Financial Group: Season Sponsor

    TD Bank Group: Presenting Sponsor Opera Under 30

    The COC Ensemble Studio, underwritten in part by Peter M. Deeb, Marjorie and Roy Linden, Sheila K. Piercey, RBC Foundation and The Slaight Family Foundation, is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals and provides advanced instruction, hands-on experience, and career development opportunities. The Ensemble Studio is also supported by the Government of Canada, the Hal Jackman Foundation and other generous donors.


    Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. The COC enjoys a loyal audience support-base and one of the highest attendance and subscription rates in North America. Under its leadership team of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC is increasingly capturing the opera world’s attention. The COC maintains its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation by creating new productions within its diverse repertoire, collaborating with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracting the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists. The COC performs in its own opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. For more information on the COC, visit

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    For more information or to request photographs, please contact:

    Avril Sequeira, Director of Public Relations, tel: 416-306-2387, e-mail: [email protected]  

    Kristin McKinnon, Publicist, tel: 416-306-2383, e-mail: [email protected]

    Posted In Press Releases


Phone: 416-363-8231

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