Romeo & Juliet. La Traviata. Aida. Oedipus Rex. Many of the greatest operas tell the tale of tragic love, and now a new one joins the list: Brokeback Mountain.
Really? Who thought this would be a good idea?
Charles Wuorinen, that’s who. (Click that link to see him interviewed, along with clips of the production.) Wuorinen is a composer who spent years creating an operatic version Brokeback after he saw Ang Lee’s film about Ennis and Jack, two men who are hired to herd a flock of sheep and accidentally fall in love with each other, and he thought the story was the perfect tale of love gone wrong.
Brokeback Mountain, as a film, has already earned a permanent place in the cultural fabric of America after winning several Oscars, as well as drawing a surprisingly nice box office profit. But even fans may view the story — about sheepherders, set in the beautiful but stark mountains of Wyoming — as a tough choice for an opera, a theatrical experience already viewed by opera non-fans as uptight and, well, boring.
Actually, the plot actually fits lends itself to opera perfectly. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is really about two people who struggle with the exquisite pain of falling in love with each other, while living in a world that forces them to stay apart. The libretto — a.k.a., the words — of the opera was written by Proulx herself, so it should stay true to the original story that launched the Brokeback empire.
Although there are some noticeable differences. Sadly, this opera version won’t have any actual sheep on stage, as that would be a logistical nightmare. There’s also apparently very little of the marvelously graphic sex that is depicted in the movie, and to an extent in the original story. But thanks to lighting trickery, everyone knows what’s going on. For whatever it’s worth, the actor who plays Ennis, Daniel Okulitch, dropped trou in the operatic adaptation of The Fly (link NSFW, if your boss will get mad about seeing peen in the theeatah).
The opera opens Jan. 28 in Madrid at Teatro Real.