The second opera of the Canadian-American folk singer, “Hadrian” by Rufus Wainwright premiered in 2018 in Toronto, presented at the Festival Castell de Peralada in the version with photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe that recently closed the season at the Teatro Real in Madrid:
Daniel MacIvor’s libretto is inspired by the life and love affair of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to the mysteriously deceased Antinous. The opera is presented here in a semi-staged version, the singers remain behind their seats but above all in front of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. The images projected throughout the night represent the inseparable emblems of this artist (men, nudes and flowers) with the same aesthetic of this universe but without a clear or obvious connection to the opera performed here (especially as these images are accompanied by words from the libretto but out of order and/or out of step with the song). The dissociated aesthetic impression is not small, on the one hand in the images, on the other hand in the very touching music of Rufus Wainwright (in particular passages that touch the heart, such as Sabina’s aria or the wonderful choir finale).
The rich cast presents famous artists. The baritone Thomas Hampson takes over the title role of which he is the creator and imposes himself there again with a fast pace and a strong voice. The projection distinguishes its timbre with assured mids and bold highs. However, some signs indicate a bit of fatigue, especially in the bass. His interpretation on stage remains confident, very expressive and passionate when the stage calls for it (ending with the kiss of Antinoüs).
In the role of Antinous, Hadrian’s lover, Argentinian tenor Santiago Ballerini projects a brassy timbre with apparently effortless sonic intensity. Its powerful highs allow it (like the mids for Thomas Hampson) to hold together, even in front of an orchestral sound mass. He also took advantage of a semi-stage version, so the coolness of his face and body expression could be calculated.
The mezzo-soprano Alexandra Urquiola interprets Plotina, Hadrian’s adoptive mother, deploying from her first intervention the skill of a wide and very energetic voice. In addition to good projection, its rich, warm timbre feeds a racy vocal line. Despite and despite its venerable volume, it is sometimes overshadowed by the orchestra. Baritone Christian Federici lends the beauty of his voice and bearing to Turbo (friend of the Emperor and head of the Praetorian Guard). His warm, deep voice conveys confidence in his character and inspires respect.
The biggest ovation of the night was reserved for soprano Vanessa Goikoetxea, who played Hadrian’s wife, Sabina. Her sparkling voice is well supported by bright highs, graced with agility and finesse.
The tenors Alejandro del Cerro and Vicenç Esteve (interpreting Trajan and Fabius) are very engaging in their roles. The first one with a clear and strong voice, piercing and long breath, the second one with a nice clear tone but with a treble left discreet. Baritone Gregory Dahl (who was also part of the cast that premiered the work in Toronto in 2018) once again embodies Hermogenes in a display of vocal confidence and knowledge of the role. The three senators Pablo García-López, Josep-Ramón Olivé and David Lagares also give themselves completely to their roles and carefully bring their grain of salt to the development of the story as well as the relationship -uyon (the first is preferred to the light. in his voice). The soprano Berna Perles, in Lavia, presented a voice that was somewhat withdrawn, but with a very well-marked vibrato. Albert Casals is a Dinarchus with a clear voice, but who struggles to keep up with the orchestra and has a small treble.
Conductor Scott Dunn’s beat is strong, energetic and very musical: even though the volume of the Teatro Real Orchestra in Madrid sometimes prevents the audience from hearing the voices of many singers. The sound density is very intense but with great precision and sensitivity, like the Chorus of the Madrid opera house, which is both precise and overflowing with drama.
The public expressed their appreciation for the work and thanked the artists with a long minute of applause.