Magazine article Opera Canada

Brokeback Mountain

Magazine article Opera Canada

Brokeback Mountain

Article excerpt



BelAir Classiques: BAC111

The late Gerard Mortier commissioned Brokeback Mountain, originally for New York City Opera. When Mortier suddenly left New York in 2008, he continued to develop the concept after he took over as General Director of the Teatro Real in Madrid. Without an intermission, the two-hour work premiered in Madrid in 2014, where this DVD was produced. American modernist composer Charles Wuorinen set the libretto by Annie Proulx, who based the text on her own 1997 short story. In 2005, the short story was turned into a very successful Oscar-winning film, directed by Ang Lee and starring the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. In a bonus interview included with this set, Proulx admits that she finds the operatic version more powerful than the film.

It's the tragic story of a secretive, forbidden, homosexual love between two Wyoming cowboys, Jack and Ennis, in the 1960s. During a drunken evening alone on Brokeback Mountain, the two men's friendship turns to passionate love. But in their homophobic age and community, Jack and Ennis must keep their relationship under wraps, both marrying women and fathering children, connecting only a few times a year on the mountain to renew their love. Needless to say, both marriages turn sour, but society and fear continue to keep the cowboys apart. At the end, when Jack dies in an accident, Ennis swears eternal devotion to him, his only experience with true love.

The DVD was shot during the opening run of the opera in Madrid, with stage direction by IvoVan Hove and set design by Jan Versweyveld. It's a successful multi-camera combination of live stage shots with close-ups. The set is a clever mix of stage props with an effective use of background video projection and slides. For their first encounter together with love, the two cowboys are seen only in profile inside a tent lit from behind. The domestic interiors of kitchen and bedrooms are right out of the 1960s. A background video image of the mountain often acts as a metaphor--cold, stark and unforgiving. But there are other metaphors, hokey and almost humorous, that I found detracted from the dark story. For example, leading up to the first love scene in the tent, there's a focus on a tall erect pine tree at the corner of the stage, and the libretto reads, "The moon's coming up...." Do we really need such phallic suggestions?

The orchestra, ably conducted by Titus Engel, is large and often reflects the doomed relationship--dark, ominous and foreboding. …

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