When she published her short story ‘Brokeback Mountain’ back in 1997, little did American author Annie Proulx know that her tragic cowboy love story would go on to inspire an Oscar-winning film and an opera.
For American composer Charles Wuorinen, the doomed romance between Jack and Ennis was perfect material for a very contemporary opera.
“It happens that this is a same sex relationship which is something that is on people’s minds, today it is controversial in some areas. It is not like these stock operatic versions of these same problems, which are of no interest to us anymore. They may have had a social relevance 100 or 150 years ago or more, but now they are just boring,” explained Wuorinen.
American tenor Tom Randle plays the optimistic and impulsive Jack Twist, while Canadian baritone Daniel Okulitch gives voice to Ennis, the introverted cowboy played by Heath Ledger in the movie.
“I have not seen the film and I’m probably the only person on the planet who hasn’t seen the film yet,” said Randle.
“I meant to do it a long time ago and just never got around to it. And when I was asked to do this role a few years ago, I kind of made a decision not to. Perhaps erroneously, but I decided it wasn’t really going to be that helpful in terms of either my interpretation or interpreting the music of the libretto. It’s a new piece,” added the tenor.
As the opera progresses, Ennis’ character finds his voice:
“As much as you might admire the performances, the big thing is to not try to imitate because, really, we have a very different libretto, which was provided by Annie Proulx, and there are so many magnificent things about Heath Ledger’s performance but, at the same time, we are not trying to re-create the film,” said Okulitch.
Annie Proulx wrote the libretto in close coordination with Wuorinen, whose score uses a wide range of instruments to express the characters’ exhilaration, longing and frustration against a backdrop of wind and rain.
‘Brokeback Mountain’ is on at Madrid’s Royal Theatre until mid-February.