Only when the fire dies out, and the cold mountain air freezes Ennis del Mar’s blood, does the rough and silent ranch hand agree to share the same tent with Jack Twist. Just like in Ang Lee’s movie and in the original short story by Annie Proulx, the shadows of that encounter are the turning point in this opera version of Brokeback Mountain, which receives its world premiere at Madrid’s Teatro Real on Tuesday.
An opera about gay cowboys? (Or, as some critics have pointed out, bisexual shepherds?) Perhaps the tragic story is not so different from the old operatic tales of a pregnant woman suffering in silence, except it has been adapted to our times. At least, that is the way that composer Charles Wuorinen saw it when he watched Ang Lee’s movie version and later read the original story in search of elements for his new score.
Wuorinen spoke with Proulx, who agreed to the project as long as she could write the libretto herself. News of it reached the ears of Gerard Mortier, then the recently appointed general director of the New York City Opera, who commissioned the piece and took it with him when he suddenly left for Madrid in 2008.
The composer began working on the piece in 2008, and did not complete it until February 2012. Although he is an eclectic musician who has worked in a broad range of styles, including one other opera, Wuorinen is hard to classify. The score he has come up with is a kind of updated version of the 12-tone technique, with a sound that is closer to Schönberg, Stravinsky or Elliott Carter than his contemporary colleagues from New York. The opera’s two acts are performed without an intermission.
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