Charles Wuorinen’s and Annie Proux’s “Brokeback Mountain,” at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Rose Theater, was New York City Opera’s (NYCO) latest entry in company’s annual Pride Month LGBTQ-themed opera series and it was an amazing show. Lovers of Proulx’s story will love her libretto and the singing was superb. Every June, from last year on, City Opera is producing modern operas addressing themes appropriate to the celebration of Pride. Next year, for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, NYCO will have an opera aptly entitled “Stonewall” for which they will soon provide more details.
Proulx’s libretto follows her novel more closely than did the 2005 film, and for those of us who crave the real chemistry angst and frissons of electric magnetism and the deep fear and longing that draw us together and rip us apart, this opera delivers. The music is the anti-Copland jagged music of western climes that are as cruel as Brokeback, which takes lives directly or indirectly. The wild beauty of the landscape that fateful season brought a spark forth from two hearts that were never truly together while being never truly apart.
Reprising their roles from the world premiere at the Teatro Real, in Spain, in this, the American premiere, were bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch as Ennis Del Mar and soprano Heather Buck as Alma Beers. Their singing was beautifully articulated and richly emotional. Their chemistry, when together, was as swirlingly conflicted as their love, each trying to do his or her best in what, we know from our omniscience, as an untenable situation. Ennis suffers from analysis paralysis throughout, unable to express his love to Jack or to break away from conventionality with Alma, as much as he loves his daughters. Glenn Seven Allen’s tenor brought Jack Twist to life. We saw the man who has as many facets as a bull rope has strands and, together, he’s a mosaic of brio, pure sex and delight. He’s a kitten and a lothario all in one and he knows how to get what he wants, but in the end not what he needs. Hillary Ginther’s Lureen was mezzo diva delight, as she wrapped her Daddy around her finger, but never quite got Jack in line. Christopher Job’s Aguirre is a seething mass of anger and when he sees what he sees, his anger is as palpable as the dark energy of Brokeback Mountain itself.
Kazem Abdullah conducted and Jacopo Spirei directed. Responsible for scenery and costumes, designer Eva Musil gave us sets that were most successful when Brokeback Mountain dominated the first act. The Mountain itself was cleverly done and the sere, spare set highlighted the stark beauty that we can imagine in the wild. When the scenes moved to the Del Mar home, a cheap hotel, and more, the set areas were on casters, dragged to and fro by shadowy cowboys, and the movements were distracting, often with one set turning while another had action.
Lighting was by Susan Roth Hayes and hair and makeup, by Georgianna Eberhard.
While I love the story, Wuorinen’s music was well suited to the Mountain, and less so to the vocalists. When Ennis and Jack were together, my heart cried out for something sonorous and reflective of the deep elemental passion they were feeling. The music was existentially conflicted and perhaps designed to reflect their contradictive limerance-driven physical relationship, but the emo part of this star-crossed Romeo and Romeo was given short shrift. I found myself hungry for the sweetness I know that Ennis and Jack enjoyed at different times before Life took them to their separate Fates. I also recognize what a luxury it is to have an opera describing a relationship like this.
New York City Operaplease keep the Pride Month operas coming and remember that there are women here, trans people, kink and asexual people who are part of our tapestry. I look forward to seeing those operas in the years to come, as well as these operas about the relationships of men.
Love Opera? Love Pride? Visit the NYCO website at www.nycopera.com
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