Today, the Globe and Mail announced that the COC has commissioned Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright to compose a new opera about the Emperor Hadrian. And because the wheels of the operatic world turn slowly, the new work won’t be seen until 2018.
Of course, Wainwright does have previous operatic experience. His opera Prima Donna was premiered in Manchester in 2009, with subsequent performances in New York, Toronto, and a few other places.
I reviewed the piece for the Globe and Mail (see here). I thought it was a pleasing work – but I was far from convinced that Wainwright is the composer we should be looking to for the next great Canadian opera.
So what should we make of Neef’s choice? Let’s remember that Neef has previously made it known that he doesn’t care much about Canadian opera as a “cause.” Viewed in this context, it’s hard to not see a certain pragmatism (if not cynicism) underlying Neef’s selection of Wainwright.
With this move, he has responded to the critics who complain that the COC hasn’t done a new Canadian opera since 1999. And he’s done it by securing the services of a composer with “marquee value,” who will create something that doesn’t aesthetically offend the average Torontonian.
The COC issued a press release on the Wainwright commission, in which Neef offers some strange words.
“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.”
Okay, I get that Wainwright sincerely wants to write this piece. But since when was it a rare or difficult thing to find a composer – even in the remote Canadian backwoods – who loves opera and wants to write one?
Now the die has been cast, and we’ll just have to wait until 2018 to find out what Wainwright’s second opera will be like. I can only hope that he takes some time to learn the art of orchestration. For Prima Donna, he had an “assistant” for this tedious task.
© Colin Eatock 2013